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 Recording of the Week  A feast of Early Music

After the success of our Contemporary Music Special Offer in the run up to Christmas we thought we'd go to the other extreme and celebrate the very beginnings of music, and are essentially covering the periods generally known as Medieval and Renaissance. I wondered whether to provide a sort of potted history of early music, but came to the conclusion that there are enough of those readily available elsewhere that I’d be better off highlighting some specific areas and performers that you might want to explore in more detail.

The Tallis Scholars under the direction of Peter Phillips have established themselves as one of the leading exponents of unaccompanied sacred music of the 15th and 16th centuries. They’ve been recording since the early 1980s and won numerous awards. To be performed well this music really demands every detail of the musical lines to be heard, so you need a pure and clear sound, as well as perfect tuning and a good blend of voices. There are more and more groups specialising in this style of performance now, but the Tallis Scholars were the pioneers and have really set the standard for the best part of thirty years.

Another group specialising in early sacred music is The Cardinall’s Musick directed by Andrew Carwood who have just reached Volume 11 in their Complete Byrd Edition. The series was under treat when the record label Gaudeamus was taken over, but I’m pleased to say that they quickly found a new home and volumes 10 and 11 of the series have recently appeared on Hyperion.

In the area of Italian secular music, Monterverdi’s madrigals have been particularly well championed by the Italian group La Venexiana, who completed their cycle last year. The group also won a Gramophone Award for the composer’s first opera L’Orfeo.

There are plenty of other very fine recordings and you can browse composers and labels, as well as searching for specific works or artists via the special offer homepage. For those new to this period of music, the Award Winners section might be a good place to start where you are sure to encounter only the very finest recordings.

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