Hugh Aston: Three Marian Antiphons (Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, vol. 1)

by Blue Heron

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Blue Heron’s second CD presents superb music by three English composers of the early 16th century: Hugh Aston, Robert Jones, and John Mason. Although their music is gorgeous and of superlative quality, Aston, Jones, and Mason are virtually unknown to performers and scholars today, for the primary extant source of the music—in the case of Robert Jones’s, the sole extant source—is now incomplete through the loss of one partbook and a portion of another, out of an original set of five. The set, known as the Peterhouse partbooks for its present location in the library of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, was copied in 1540 for Canterbury Cathedral and is the largest and most important source of English music surviving from the period just before the Reformation; it contains over seventy works, fifty of which are unique to Peterhouse. Blue Heron’s recording uses brilliantly idiomatic reconstructions by Nick Sandon, a British musicologist now living in France, who has devoted his career to the music of the Peterhouse partbooks.

This is the first disc in a projected series of recordings of music from the Peterhouse partbooks and includes world premiere recordings of three works and the first of another in the form recorded here.


"My sense of Aston’s voice owes much to Blue Heron’s imaginative realization of his scores. Through an array of interpretive choices—fine gradations of dynamics; pungent diction; telling contrasts of ethereal and earthly timbres; tempos that are more lusty than languid; a way of propelling a phrase toward a goal—the music takes on narrative momentum, its moods dovetailing with the theme of the text. Listen to the brazen, almost raucous tone of the sopranos as they arrive, in 'Ave Maria dive matris Anne,' at the self-reflexive phrase 'psallentes et omnes hoc Ave Maria'—'and all singing this Hail Mary.' Or to the joyous thrust of the basses in the Amen coda of Aston’s “Gaude virgo mater Christi,” as they repeat a phrase in which one interval keeps widening, from a third to a fourth and, finally, to a fifth…"
-- Alex Ross, The New Yorker, January 10, 2011


released March 13, 2010

Engineering and mastering: Joel Gordon
Producer: Eric Milnes
Editing: Eric Milnes, Joel Gordon & David Corcoran
Graphic design: Pete Goldlust
Cover photo: Radius Images
Recorded at Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
September 2009



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Blue Heron, directed by Scott Metcalfe, has been acclaimed by The Boston Globe as “one of the Boston music community’s indispensables” and hailed by Alex Ross in The New Yorker for the “expressive intensity” of its interpretations; the Boston Musical Intelligencer calls Blue Heron “a fantastic model for the fully-realized potential of early music performance in the 21st century.” ... more

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