The Tomkins Vocal Ensemble of Budapest made an auspicious start to London's Hungarian Spring festival at St. Paul's Covent Garden with Peter Eotvos' recent music-theatre piece Madrigal Comedies, which inhabited the nonsense world of Ligeti's Aventures, with all possible extended vocal techniques. They returned to give a more normal mixed programme, including several items by their eponymous English composer, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656).
Now I have received, and greatly enjoyed, their Tomkins CD, with the choir directed by their founder János Dobra. It was recorded in the studios of Hungarian Radio in 1992 but only produced in 2000; many members of the flexible Ensemble are still with Dobra ever since he founded it in 1978 with fellow graduates from the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest. It was the first ensemble in Hungary to concentrate on the great English tradition; they have performed and broadcast numerous secular and sacred works of the renaissance, and also music of all countries and periods suitable for 5 to 16 vocalists.
This is a generous 70 min. selection of serious religious works and lighter madrigals, with many a fa-la-la (in his excellent notes, Dobra suggests that these "will provide vast opportunities for readers and listeners to complete an idea with any self-favoured interpretation personally worked out "!). Many are striking for the musical representation of texts from poets of the time and from the Bible. With 23 tracks, a dozen of them claimed as first recordings, it may be one of the most comprehensive recordings on CD of a great composer whose vocal works, in my catalogue, claim only 2½ columns as against 7½ for William Byrd.
It is good to have discovered this island of Anglophilia in Hungary, and the surprise of this admirable project is reinforced by seeing the parallel Hungarian translations to the sung words; Hungary is not one of the European countries where most people speak English – I needed an interpreter in London to talk with the choir and Mr. Dobra). Piquant to see Oyez become Figyelmezzetek!
Well recorded, and sung with enthusiasm in good English, the songs are taken from the book published in 1622, with a poem for Tomkins by the composer's brother John in the title page reproduced. My only quibble is that available space was not used to list the singers and to indicate which of the individual items were in 4, 5 or 6 parts. This CD is a novelty well worth acquiring.
Copyright © 2002, Peter Grahame Woolf