Friday, 11 March 2016

ENSEMBLE SPOTLIGHT: VOX LUMINIS

This album can be purchased online here
This month’s Ensemble Spotlight goes to Vox Luminis (a name you are going to want to remember), a thirteen-member early vocal music ensemble founded in Belgium and featuring a cast (according to the ensemble’s current website) of four sopranos and one mezzo-soprano, three counter-tenors, two tenors and baritones and one bass (and accompanying continuo on viola da gamba and organ).

The 2012 Gramophone award winning ensemble features a repertoire that covers a wide range of 16th – 18th century vocal works from across the European continent and which span across the ages, from the early sacred music of Franco-Flemish composers Josquin Des Prez and Roland (Orlande) de Lassus of the mid-late Renaissance (two of 16th century Europe’s most influential composers) to the period of English Reformation (and counter-reformation), featuring the works of madrigalist composers Thomas Morley and Henry Purcell of Britain.

Among the gems to be found within the Vox Luminis catalogue are the sacred and secular works of Bach (and sons), the ethereal works of obscure early baroque master Samuel Scheidt and the early German Passions of Joachim von Burck (himself a predecessor to Johann Sebastian Bach) and some of my favorite pieces -from the early Tudor-era vocal repertoire - in the form of the exquisite personal pleas of William Cornysh (in the beautifully rendered “Ah Robin, Gentle Robin”) and even works composed by the King Henry VIII himself are included in the Vox Luminis discography.

I’ve selected this ensemble for a spotlight for reasons of sociological impact and physiological effect: exquisitely transcendent in pitch and velvety lush in both individual and collective vocal lustre, Vox Luminis, is, in my opinion, an absolute top contender in vocal ensembles, and are as significant from a historical standpoint as they are instrumental to a continuing present and future, rich with mid to late renaissance era performance and appreciation.

Upon hearing Vox Luminis’ surprisingly vast repertoire, one is almost compelled (I know I am) to seek to re-discover more about the composers, their rulers, and the social, political and dogmatic times in which they lived, thrived, suffered, and created such exquisite beauty, and, discover, in the process, how much times have progressed, and just how much has remained the same. To understand the historical backdrop of each era presented to us by our favorite composers and musicians is to understand the struggles, the sacrifices, and the inspirational sources of our creative ancestors. It is to comprehend, experience, and appreciate the furthest reaches of the sheer cosmic beauty found in each piece.

Listen below to the glorious Ah Robin, Gentle Robin – a composition that is as ever-present in sound and in subject today as it was when it was composed some five centuries ago:



Bonus (somewhat miscellaneous) video commentary: Tudor enthusiasts, this secular work exists in your favored era! While not written by or for the King in question, this melancholic piece was probably written whilst the ever fickle-in-love Henry VIII sat upon the throne of England.

When discovering music for the first – or the first of many – times, I find it especially enriching to the listening experience to imagine the world in which the composition was written. What was happening in the country? On the continent? This lugubrious plea dates from an notoriously chaotic time in British history. One marvels at the thought of Cornysh’s true source of inspiration in authoring the piece! "Ah, Robin, Gentle Robin," is sung from the perspective of an emotionally fragile and spiritually broken male, so desperate to discover the romantic status and inner feelings of his unrequited love, he begs the service of a messenger – in this case, a Robin – such enquiry is, of course, a futile hypothetical: the lovelorn answers his own fate “my lady is unkind..alack, why is she so?....She loveth another better than me, and yet she will say no…”

Sound familiar?

Text (public domain)
Ah, Robin, gentle Robin,
Tell me how thy leman doth,
And thou shalt know of mine.
My lady is unkind I wis, Alack why is she so? 
She lov'th another better than me, 
and yet she will say no.

Ah, Robin, gentle, Robin,
Tell me how thy leman doth
and thou shalt know of mine. 

I cannot think such doubleness 
for I find women true, 
In faith my lady lov'th me well 
she will change for no new.

Ah, Robin, gentle, Robin,
Tell me how thy leman doth
and thou shalt know of mine.
 

-William Cornysh, c.1465 - c.1523 

-Rose. 

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