Proms 2009: Proms Chamber Music 1 – The Cardinall’s Musick \ Andrew Carwood
King of England from 1509 to 1547, Henry VIII would almost certainly have been someone who would have annoyed me assuming I was around at the time and moved in the circles he did. In addition to being a ruler, Henry VIII was a composer and staunched supporter of culture it seems.
But it’s not this which prompted me to listen to the performance of music from his reign, nor the fact that Henry being born in Greenwich makes him something of a local boy given that I live in Lewisham.
No, it was a simmering sense of guilt that has been gnawing away at me ever since I ignorantly dismissed this lunchtime Proms gig as one of Proms Director Roger Wright’s less fabulous concert ideas.
Good on him, Roger did give as good as he got and went to great lengths to champion the gig. He wasn’t wrong either.
After a weekend of Haydn and Handel the sound of Andrew Carwood’s vocal ensemble The Cardinal’s Musick was simple, arresting and beautiful even if the sight of the titles in the brochure made the programme look distant and impenetrable.
Even if, unlike me, you’re not pursuing the cleansing effect a collection of voices devoid of vibrato and excessive, seemingly showey-offy melismatic writing of later musical styles, there is something totally engaging about the long sustained vocal lines present in so much of the music in this programme. Such music focuses the mind on the technical demands made of the singer to produce such a distinct soundscape.
Harmonically too it feels as though there’s far more interest and development. The archetypal polyphony taking the listener on all sorts of strange journeys which a lot of the time feels a long way a way from the note we first started on and yet, effortlessly, we arrive back at the start with a definite sense of having heard “interesting stuff” along the way. I’m a rennaissance man, it seems.
Five hundred years on, the work of The Cardinal’s Musick is vital to ensure this musical style is not forgotten. But to what extent does Carwood and others like him feel confident they’ve produced something which is close (if not exact – and surely there’s no way it can be an exact, can it?) to that performed 500 years ago? How do we know how people sang or what sounds they were producing ? It’s something I wish I’d asked him before the concert – shortly after the Roger Wright interview and before this lunchtime gig.
I had originally intended to try and get a day ticket for the Cadogan Hall gig this lunchtime but what with a meeting in the morning and one or two crucial issues to sort out before hand, the likelihood of getting there was becoming increasingly unlikely even if I had got a ticket.
Consequently, I settled myself in a meeting room with a view of the A40 in front of me. The view wasn’t pretty in any way, but the sound of the speakers made for one of the first of many musical surprises this Proms season.
And of course, should you bump into Roger Wright perhaps you’d be good enough to tell him that.
Listen to the first Proms Chamber Music gig here (programme notes here eventually) and when you do, keep an ear out for Henry VIII’s opening number Pastyme with good companye (he could definitely write thumping tune), the Taverner Christe Jesu (if you’re a bass try singing along to the line without the music – it’s impossible – this line goes all over the place) and the Tallis Sancte Deus if you listen to nothing else.