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GRAMOPHONE (04/2020)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

Along with Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons (and, later, Purcell), Thomas Tomkins was a member of the Chapel Royal – the peripatetic ensemble of singers, organists and composers who followed English monarchs from palace to palace, providing music for royal worship. Today each palace has its own choir, and it seems only fitting that one of these – the Choir of the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court – should step up to celebrate a composer rarely in the choral spotlight.

The selection of works (including two recorded premieres, the verse anthem Death is swallowed up in victory and the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis of the Seventh Service) seems designed to take the road less travelled and throws up plenty of interest. The opener Death is swallowed up flickers with duelling treble soloists, whose dotted rhythms here crackle and spark with energy; the psalm-setting Give ear unto my words manipulates its four-part texture to careful effect; while a Gloria tibi Trinitas for solo organ finds the two hands chasing one another up and down the organ in an extended game of cat and mouse.

The quality of the treble-singing under music director Carl Jackson is superb, offering a more focused, crisper alternative to blowsier rival recordings from New College and Magdalen, Oxford (although the latter’s collaboration with Fretwork lends accompaniments some welcome textural grit in contrast to the glassy smoothness of Hampton Court’s chamber organ). Men’s voices are more mixed.

Less madrigalian in his style than Weelkes or Gibbons, Tomkins’s weaker rhetorical instinct is underlined here by the variety of texts, whose vivid contrasts draw remarkably consistent responses from the composer. Perhaps a disc, then, to dip into for individual works rather than a recital to take at a gulp.


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