The 1960s were a period when pioneering singers followed the lead of instrumentalists to create ensembles devoted to researching and performing the long-forgotten treasure of Western music composed before the time of Bach and Handel, and it was in the middle of that decade that three British musicians and scholars founded Pro Cantione Antiqua. They were tenor James Griffett, countertenor Paul Esswood, and conductor Mark Brown, joined by conductorRead more and musicologist Bruno Turner. The intent from the beginning was to make the group an ensemble of soloists, in the sense that they all had careers as professional solo singers. This blend of strength and beauty of each singer's tone and the individuality each member brings to his part is responsible for the special quality of the PCA. Its primary era of emphasis is the Renaissance era, the richest outpouring of polyphonic composition in history. Since polyphony is an interplay of truly independent lines, the individuality of the singers on each part enhances the performance and helps guide the listener through the complex part-writing. Gramophone magazine wrote of its recording of motets of Francisco de Peñalosa (ca. 1470-1528), "Careful listening will teach you much about the essence of early sixteenth century polyphony."
In addition to its Renaissance repertory, the PCA also sings considerable amounts of Medieval music and, as a number of early music groups have done, developed an interest in recent trends in contemporary music. PCA have commissioned works from composers including Sir Lennox Berkeley, Ian Parrott, Colin Mawby, and Ivan Moody, and regularly include other contemporary music on their programs.
The PCA has toured extensively through Europe, the Far East, and Latin America. It has made over 80 CD albums and won several major disc awards. Filmgoers have heard it singing an Arthur Sullivan partsong, "The Long Day Closes," as the title music of Terence Davies' 1992 film. The group has become particularly associated with the Monteverdi 1601 Vespers through performances with the early music groups the Orchestra and Choir of the Golden Age and His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornettes.
As well as being pioneers for the appreciation of Portuguese, Polish, Croatian, and Jewish polyphony, Pro Cantione Antiqua has taken a particular interest in Iberian Renaissance music. In 1999 it participated in concerts in Madrid and Seville honoring the 400th anniversary of the death of Francisco Guerrero, and in 2000 creatively planned programs linking and contrasting the sixteenth century music of Spain, Portugal, and England.
The group is comprised of the following soloists, all, of them prominent in recital and opera: Paul Esswood, Robin Tyson, James Bowman, Timothy Penrose, and Robert Harre Jones (countertenors), James Griffett, Ian Partridge, Joseph Cornwell, and Andrew King (tenors), and Stephen Roberts, Michael George, Adrian Peacock, and David Beavan (basses/baritones). Read less