Gramophone on Media Vita
Richard Lawrence, Gramophone (April, 2010)
Like his contemporaries, Sheppard had to accommodate himself to changes in the liturgy, as the Tudor monarchs shifted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism and back. Not much is known about his life, except that he left his position at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1548 to beome a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. This recording by the 14-strong Stile Antico offers three extensive Latin pieces leavened by shorted English anthems composed during the reign of Edward VI.
It opens with the responsary Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria. The outer sections are for six voices, the lowest but one being a cantus firmus. These frame simpler “gymel” passages, where the sopranos and altos, each divided in two, are combined with the bass. Then there is plainchant, some of it consisting of a melisma on the last syllable of the preceding polyphony. It is a most attactive piece, with clashes of harmony duly relished by the choir.
Even more elaborate is the 25-minute antiphon that gives the disc its title. Here the Nunc dimittis is chanted, its simplicity an affecting contrast to the intensity of the counterpoint. Stile Antico take the beginning quietly, as befits the words – “In the midst of life we are in death” – and work up to a powerful conclusion. The Te deum is an alternatim setting, probably composed earlier than the other two works.
Of the English anthems, “I give you a new commandment” is constructed like, for example, Tallis’ “If ye love me”, where the second part is completed. Whether the music be simple or complex, Stile Antico have the measure of it. Excellent!