SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

CHRISTOPHER GIBBONS: Motets, anthems, fantasias, and voluntaries = Soloists/ Choir/ Academy of Ancient Music/ Richard Egarr – Harmonia mundi

Who is Christopher Gibbons? Read on and get ready for a wonderful discovery.

Published on August 23, 2012

CHRISTOPHER GIBBONS: Motets, anthems, fantasias, and voluntaries = Not unto us, O Lord; Organ Voluntarie in C; Above the Stars my Saviour dwells; Fantasy-Suite in D minor; Ah, my Soul, why so dismayed?; Organ Voluntary in C; O bone Jesu; A Voluntary for ye Duble Organ in A minor; Fantasia; The Lord said unto my Lord; Verse for the Double Organ in D minor; Fantasy-Suite in F – Philippa Hyde, sop./ Jacqueline Connell, mezzo-sop./ Charmian Bedford, sop./ Alastair Ross, organ/ Richard Egarr, organ and cond./ Choir of the AAM/ Academy of Ancient Music – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807551, 62:27 [8/14/12] *****:

I must admit that I did not know of the existence of Christopher Gibbons (1615–1676), the only surviving son of much more famous composer Orlando Gibbons, that master of English music who made quite an impact in his time. As far as I can determine there are only a total of five recordings currently available that feature his music, and this album under review is the first to be dedicated solely to the composer. We are very fortunate in that it happens to be a superb one.

Gibbons was a chorister from a very young age, and that coupled with his organ studies eventually led him in 1638 to the appointment as organist in Winchester Cathedral. Just a few years later the English Civil War led him to fight for the Royalist cause, and then eventually to London where he lived from late in 1651 to his death in 1676. Up until 1660 he made his living primarily as a music teacher and sometime composer of incidental music for the Commonwealth theaters. With the accession of Charles II to the throne Gibbons was welcomed in the royal court because he refused to flee during the time the government of Cromwell banned church music, and accepted the position of Gentleman and Organist of the Chapel Royal.

He was feted into his old age and recognized as an upholder of the English tradition, giving support to many composers of the time including Purcell. There are not a lot of scores in existence, but since the 1990s Richard Egarr has spent no little time promoting his cause to good effect, giving concerts devoted to Gibbons’s music, and this SACD is the result of those efforts. As the title says, this is a varied miscellany including organ and chamber music, and several types of choral pieces, including one of the few Latin motets the composer wrote. Each of these works is performed with obvious affection and enormous emotional involvement on the part of the performers, and the sound is spectacular. One can only pray that the success of this album—and it deserves much—will lead to a follow-up as well. Great stuff!

—Steven Ritter

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