CD Review: The Royal Wind Music's 'Cosmography of Polyphony' - Summer Alp
The Royal Wind Music is a unique ensemble; it is the largest professional recorder consort in the world. The ensemble's instrumentation ranges from a 15cm sopranino recorder to a 3m sub-contrabass recorder, and their musical configurations vary from 3-13 players. They have been dedicated to the performance of renaissance music since their founding in 1997, and in their eighth disc, they present us with a ‘cosmography’ of their musical universe. That is to say, they illuminate and describe European renaissance polyphony. The selected pieces include sacred and secular vocal works, instrumental ensemble music and arrangements of organ music.
From the first track we are welcomed by The Royal Wind Music’s signature warm, rich, and resonant sound. They are able to capture in equal measure peace and intensity, always maintaining intention and shape.
The group’s depth of experience playing renaissance consort music is obvious. Their presentation of line and understanding of harmonic tension brings the polyphony to life in such a unique way. It seems so natural, never contrived, and even the occasional use of ‘recorder gimmicks’ (very short playing for example) in the secular pieces never becomes affected, creating a different emotional experience for the listener.
The programming of this CD is very satisfying to listen to. It’s clear that the variety of pieces, instrumentation, mood, and musical character have been carefully considered to form a coherent yet surprising disc. For example, we journey from Brumel’s virtuosically instrumental Tanndernac (track 5) played by a one-to-a-part trio, to the intense and harmonically extreme O Dolorosa Gioia by Gesualdo (track 6) in a tutti setting, and then to a set of short, light dances collected by Phalèse (tracks 7-9). However, I was surprised to find no Josquin on this disc!
I was lucky enough to see The Royal Wind Music perform selections from this programme at the Royal College of Music, London, last autumn. Many may know that they always perform from memory, without musical parts or scores, and that the quality, communication, and cooperation in their ensemble is second to none. Listening to their CD is not at all a paler experience than watching them perform. Their expressive playing is as captivating and moving here as it was then.
Summer Alp is a recorder player and baroque oboist who has been studying at the Royal College of Music, London. She has recently become interested in writing about music and enjoys this as an aspect of historically informed performance.