Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks

Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks

greensleeves-armonico consort

GREENSLEEVES: FOLK MUSIC OF THE BRITISH ISLES

Armonico Consort

Christopher Monks, director

Signum Classics

 

Having developed a number of larger scale projects, Christopher Monks and the Armonico Consort return to their roots with this disc on Signum Classics of folk songs from the British Isles arranged by Geoffrey Webber, Toby Young, Christopher Monks, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Patrick Hadley. In his booklet note Monks explains that in the early days of the Armonico Consort the group performed a large number of smaller scale programs that usually included some folk songs.

 

‘Greensleeves,’ Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks (soloists: Francis Brett, Philippa Murray), from Greensleeves: Folk Music of the British Isles

‘Lisa Lân,’ Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks (soloists: Eloise Irving, Matthew Vine), from Greensleeves: Folk Music of the British Isles

Influential amongst these were arrangements by Geoffrey Webber of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Monks had been a music scholar at the college and Webber’s highly effective arrangements were a staple of the choir for lighter moments. On this disc they are joined by arrangements from the influential greats of the British folk song movement, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, along with new arrangements commissioned from Armonico Consort member Toby Young, one of Monks’ own and one by Patrick Hadley, who wrote a number of folk song arrangements for the Gonville and Caius Choir.

‘Lay a Garland,’ written by Robert Pearsall. Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks, from Greensleeves: Folk Music of the British Isles

‘Now is the Month of Maying,’ written by Thomas Morley. Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks, from Greensleeves: Folk Music of the British Isles

Also on the disc are three non-folk song items, Stanford’s “The Blue Bird,” Robert Pearsall’s “Lay a Garland” and Thomas Morley’s “Now is the Month of Maying.” The Stanford is so popular with choirs it almost achieves folk status. Stanford’s beautiful simplicity of writing echoes some of the folk song arrangements whereas Morley’s madrigal makes a delightful foil. But Pearsall’s part-song, with its spectacular use of suspensions, seems a long way from the other items on the disc, lovely though it is.

‘O Love, ’tis a Calm Starry Night,’ Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks, from Greensleeves: Folk Music of the British Isles

The folk song arrangements all come from the same stable, very much English Romantic with a discreet yet highly effective use of harmony. It’s interesting to hear how Webber and Young expand the palate that we expect from Ralph Vaughan Williams. The disc works because the Consort’s 10 singers perform sing with such superb skill. Their tone is finely focussed and lithe, yet with a strength that makes you think more vocalists might have been involved.

‘Loch Lomond,’ arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks (soloist: Matthew Vine), from Greensleeves: Folk Music of the British Isles

The performance stand out by dint of more than mere musical values. Consider the singers’ lovely sense of line combined with great diction and sense of the words. I would have liked more attempt at some sort of regional accent but instead we get standard received throughout (with an awkward fudge to make “lass” rhyme with “grass” when pronounced in standard received). Six of the singers take solo moments, and the arrangements make a great use of these voices, resulting in some lovely, fine-grained solo moments.

I could have wished for a slightly wider range in the arrangements, something rumbustious by Grainger perhaps? But this disc works because the singers combine fine musical quality with a sympathy and enthusiasm for their material, giving us a delightfully evocative 50 minutes.

Reprinted by permission of Robert Hugill, a contemporary classical composer based in London. Recent performances of his works have included sacred motets, orchestral music and a one-act opera. Click here for his full biography. For more of Mr. Hugill’s classical reviews and interviews, visit Planet Hugill—A World of Classical Music.