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The Cries Of London / Hillier, Fretwork, Theatre Of Voices


Release Date: 06/13/2006 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 907214   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Orlando GibbonsWilliam CobboldThomas WeelkesRichard Dering,   ... 
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  FretworkTheatre of Voices
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"The recent howls of anguish over the prospect of live advertising in the theater might be softened a little if enough people hear the new CD "The Cries of London" from Harmonia Mundi France. Sales pitches captured on the streets of early- to mid-17th-century England were organized into musical form by eminences like Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Weelkes as well as the slightly lesser lights William Cobbold and especially Richard Dering, who to my ears is the star of the show... The vocal ensemble here is the Theater of Voices. Fretworks tends to the instrumental side. Both are first rate."
Bernard Holland, NEW YORK TIMES

Documenting the street language of vendors selling their wares in the squares and
Read more markets of 17th-century London is one thing; setting these utterances to music is another. There's no doubt that these words and expressions are quite colorful--"New mussels, new lilywhite mussels; Perfum'd waistcoats; Hard garlic, hard; Ripe walnuts, ripe; Will you buy any ink? Buy a cover for a close-stool? Ha' ye any rats or mice to kill?--and thus tempting for a clever composer to render with melodic and instrumental accompaniment. And not only did many composers do just that, but it became a kind of game, an entertainment, and even a teaching tool, where several different tunes and many different rhythmic devices were incorporated into the piece. The practice wasn't limited to England either, for examples of similar compositions exist in other countries and in earlier and later centuries.

Nevertheless, the fact is that for today's listener it's difficult to appreciate the entertainment value of these works, whose texts essentially are just strung-together lists, the melodic lines most rudimentary--often only one note, or two or three, repeated over and over to the rhythm of the words--with continuous, contrastingly intricate instrumental accompaniment, in this case a viol consort. Paul Hillier and his singers obviously are having a great time, making their various sales-pitches with strongly-inflected gusto and offering all manner of accents, regional and local. The voices are rather close and mostly loud, and all the while the viols churn away in the background.

While there are variations in the texts and musical treatments by Gibbons, Weelkes, and Dering, if you don't listen carefully, there's not very much difference from one composer's setting of "Cries" to another, and so the program suffers from sameness and from the utter simplicity/uninteresting character of the vocal material. This isn't to say that the performances aren't first-rate on all counts; these singers and the viol consort Fretwork are among the world's best at what they do. And for variety the program does include a few purely instrumental pieces by Gibbons and Dering along with two songs by Michael East and Ravenscroft's famed ballad "The Three Ravens". But for pure listening, the disc is less effective as entertainment than it is as a curiosity or educational/reference document. In fact, I enjoyed reading the different "Cries of London" texts on their own more than I did hearing their musical settings, although, unusually for Hillier's projects, the rather obscure, self-absorbed, even arcane liner notes are not much help in understanding the music's context and content. (One sentence: "In his panorama of New Fashions, Cobbold used "Browning" in that way as a ground for everyday love themes...countered by the more ominous...to hint without overt moralising at the theme of sic transit.")

In contrast to Hillier and Fretwork, there is another Cries of London recording (on Ambroisie) that covers some of the same material, sung by a group of French and English soloists but accompanied by the brass and winds of Les Sacqueboutiers. In between the settings of "Cries" (by Dering, Gibbons, and Weelkes) are excellent instrumental works by Ferrabosco, Locke, Holborne, and others. Tempos are more brisk than Hillier's and the singing is inflected with stronger sense of rhythm. Although the sackbuts and cornetts often obscure the clarity of the words, there's an excitement and energy in these performances that almost overcomes the boring repetitiveness and sameness mentioned above. And the more dynamic instrumental playing--helped by the colorful brass timbres--is a pleasure to hear. I'm still not a fan of the Cries of London, but if you are, one or both of these recordings should more than satisfy your interest.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Cryes of London by Orlando Gibbons
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 17th Century; England 
2.
Fantasias (4) à 3 "for the great double bass": no 4 by Orlando Gibbons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 17th Century; England 
3.
New Fashions by William Cobbold
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
4.
Cries of London by Thomas Weelkes
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
5.
The Country Cries by Richard Dering
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissance 
Written: after 1603; England 
6.
The City Cries by Richard Dering
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissaince 
Written: England 
7.
There were three ravens by Thomas Ravenscroft
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
8.
Sweet Muses by Richard Dering
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Renaissaince 
Written: England 
9.
In the merry month of May by Michael East
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork,  Theatre of Voices
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
10.
Go from my window by Orlando Gibbons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 17th Century; England 
11.
Fantasia no 1 by Richard Dering
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork
Period: Renaissaince 
Written: England 

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