“Transeamus – English Carols and Motets” – The Hilliard Ensemble – ECM New Series 2408, 67:30 [Distr. by Universal] *****:

Say it ain’t so—after forty years there is no more Hilliard Ensemble, their last concert being in December 2014. It’s a storied existence for the four guys who became somewhat of a cult phenom with the album Officium back in the eighties, and their association with ECM has now become legendary—plus the fact that several of their albums are one-million sellers, something exorbitant and extravagant in the classical music world. The group has enjoyed nearly unprecedented success due to their vibrant interpretative finesse, smooth tonal quality, and the ability to sing, well, just about anything put in front of them, ancient or modern.

So for this, their last album, they return to the genre that served them so well and which they love so much—15th century English composers. After all, their first recording contained music of Henry VIII, and as they state in the notes to this release, there are many favorites that they sing in concert which have not been silver-disced before.

Most of the tracks are by that ever-prolific composer named Anonymous, but the music is definitely not unfamiliar. These carols, and hymns to the Virgin Mary, are exquisite in their concise expression and hidden unmannered, unaffected communicative radiance. This ensemble, after 40 years, knows just how to sing them, and the restraint and egoless performances are evidence of how utterly in love with them they are. The sound is just like we usually hear from them on ECM, consistent to a fault.

I can’t imagine a better farewell gift—they will be missed.


Anonymous: Thomas gemma Cantuarie primula; St Thomas honour we; Clangat tuba; Lullay, lullow: I saw a swete semely sight; There is no rose; Marvel not Joseph; Ecce quod natura; Ah! My dear Son; Dou way Robyn / Sancta Mater
Cornysh the elder: Ave Maria Mater Dei
Lambe: Stella Caeli
Plummer: Anna Mater Matris Christi
Sheryngham: Ah, Gentle Jesu

—Steven Ritter