Monday, July 8, 2024

CD Review: "Reformation" Keyboard Works: Lamenting Walsingham

I chanced to see a post by Damian Thompson on social media about a new Hyperion CD of Elizabethan keyboard music by William Byrd, et al, so went to his Spectator "Holy Smoke" page to listen to his interview with the performer, Mishka Rushdie Momen (yes, she's related to Salman Rushdie; he's her uncle). Then, of course, I ordered the CD after perusing the Hyperion website for samples, etc.

The soloist wrote the liner notes for the CD and she laments the losses of culture and freedom in Recusant England, not just for Catholics at the time, but for the world (some of that regret comes through even more clearly in the "Holy Smoke" interview linked above). An excerpt:

Thinking about pilgrimages in England also involves confronting a great absence. English culture has been predominantly Protestant for half a millennium and the cult of St Thomas no longer exists. Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury, described by Erasmus as ‘a shryne of gold … [where] all thynges dyd shyne, florishe’, was demolished in 1538 by the agents of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII and architect of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The relics of Thomas Becket also vanished; in her novel The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel suggests they might have been thrown into Cromwell’s cellar. Subsequently, a royal proclamation ordered the destruction of any image or mention of Becket in the Church; in Missal books, Becket’s name is redacted more consistently than references to the Pope.

Our picture of the Renaissance is severely fractured and incomplete as a result of the sheer scale of the cultural vandalism caused by the English Reformation. Many paintings and works of art were destroyed in this Puritan [sic] environment. A rare example of a medieval wall painting which has survived is in Pickering, Yorkshire, where I gave a recital for the Ryedale Festival underneath an image depicting the chaplain Edward Grim pleading with the four knights of Henry II who murdered Thomas Becket. Over 700 Catholic religious institutions were destroyed between 1536 and 1540, and a great number of trained musicians and composers lost their positions. Some would have found work in the new Church of England and others in secular environments such as private homes, but I wonder if a wealth of musical treasures and talent may have been squandered. . . .

One might quibble with the "Puritan environment" description as anachronistic, but it does represent the views of someone like Latimer who wanted to purify English churches and shrines of their statues of the Mother of God and the saints. Here's a link to a page describing the wall paintings in Saints Peter and Paul church in Pickering, Yorkshire Momen refers to.

I received the CD Friday and have been listening to it with delight. She performs these pieces on the modern piano instead of the period instruments Byrd and Bull and Gibbons would have used, and I like the range and dynamics of the performances. While through the years I've listened to many recordings of William Byrd's liturgical music, including the three Masses, this is the first time I've listened to his keyboard works for such a stretch, and the soloist's notes about her methods of playing them on a concert piano, including fingering and use of the pedals, were enlightening to me. Her final comment from the notes:
Research has provided us with many details about people’s lives in this era and yet our imagination is compelled to fill in so many gaps. Musically speaking, exploring this repertoire on the piano gives me a sense of encountering a palace of riches, and at the same time a feeling of venturing into relatively uncharted territory. I would love it if works from this period were to become fully integrated into the modern pianist’s canon and for this inspiring repertoire to enter into a dialogue with masterpieces from throughout history.
Please note that this is Hyperion's "Record of the Month" and Momen was featured on BBC Radio's In Tune program Thursday, July 4, and there's a Gramophone interview

I think this would be a good CD for any collection. 

Image Source (Fair Use for a Review).

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