Four years ago, the Spirit of Gambo released an album (Musica Ficta 8022; Fanfare 38:5) containing all surviving 21 in nomines of Tye, along with several of his extent consort compositions, and two vocal works. While criticizing the vocal cuts for separate performance issues, I was in general impressed by the ensemble, as I had been with its disc of John Jenkins’s consort music. Now we have a second release of Tye’s extant consort music, this time complete at 31 selections. Needless to add, this is all very good to see. Nor are the performances identical, which in turn means a variety of approach that not only offers listeners option based on personal preference, but is illustrative of the very real and distinctive contribution individual, stylistically alert ensembles make to early music.
Spirit of Gambo is sleeker-toned, with a cooler, expressive touch. Phantasm generally accents more heavily, emphasizing the Farewell my good one forever theme, for instance, above the In nomine towards the piece’s conclusion. The stronger ebb and flow of their dynamics in Sit Fast, as well as the slightly greater press of vibrato at the end of some phrases, subtly contributes to the sense of a rhapsodic, fantasia-like approach—appropriate to my way of thinking in a piece that at times suggests Tye has fastened his imagination on that old English practice of change ringing. (It’s not impossible, though in fairness, the earliest known English ringing society currently on record dates to 1612, nearly 40 years after Tye’s death.)
While in general similar tempos are adopted by each ensemble, Phantasm will sometimes pace a piece much more quickly than Spirit of Gambo. This is especially the case when there’s little harmonic movement above an augmented In nomine cantus firmus, and the theme in the upper parts is either treated with elaborate counterpoint (as in “Believe me,” with its bristling canons) or possesses folk/popular characteristics (as in “Free from all”). Timing comparisons are questionable in the music of later periods, where numerous tempos in a single movement abound, but here they speak loudly and plainly: the Spirit of Gambo at 2:31 and 2:30, versus Phantasm at 1:22 and 1:26, respectively. This holds true with several other pieces, including the In nomine: “My deathe bedde,” “Laudes Deo,” and “Christus resurgens.”
The music’s combination of consummate skill and imaginative breath needs no recommendation. Suffice to say, this album receives an enthusiastic one.