Classical CD review

Blue Heron


“Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Volume 3”

Scott Metcalfe, music director

(BHCD 1004)

When, in the 1530s and ’40s, Henry VIII embarked on the dissolution of England’s abbeys and monasteries, one clerical scribe took it upon himself to recopy some of his favorite sacred music. That, anyway, is one theory behind the Peterhouse Partbooks, a collection of pre-Reformation vocal works that survived even as other manuscripts of similar vintage were destroyed. Whether the partbooks were assembled for use at Canterbury Cathedral, or merely for posterity, the music of the partbooks was, even at the time, already old-fashioned: the rich decoration of Tudor Catholic ritual.

Blue Heron’s series of exemplary recordings of this repertoire — in Nick Sandon’s scholarly reconstructions — now continue with a third release, pairing “Ave fuit prima salus,” a stately, dark-hued antiphon by the largely unknown John Mason, with the serenely florid “Missa Inclina cor meum” by Nicholas Ludford, a prolific composer who nevertheless seems to have given up composing rather than adapt to newer Reformation styles.

The performances are suffused with elegance and polish, but, as with other releases in the series, what is equally compelling is the play of time: bygone, deliberately antiquarian relics reintroduced into the modern world as pristine artifacts; intense, expressively heightened dramas that unfold in a kind of purified, meditative slow motion.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at