Orlando Gibbons was the most highly-regarded English musician of his generation. As the Dean of Westminster commented in 1624: "The organ was touched by the best finger of that age, Mr. Orlando Gibbons". Gibbons became organist of the Chapel Royal and, later, Westminster Abbey. His output was not great: church music, a set of madrigals, keyboard and consort music, and a few other works. The church music includes thirty-two anthems (including ten verse anthems where sections for solo voices with independent accompanist alternate with choral passages) and just two services.
Of the full anthems, O clap your hands - a setting of Psalm 47 - is a noble work demonstrating contrapuntal mastery in its eight-part writing with striking antiphonal effects. Hosanna to the son of David is a festive setting for Palm Sunday; with its light-textured opening (which is recapitulated) it compares closely with Byrd's Exalt thyself, O God. The impressively austere Out of the deep is a setting of Psalm 130 which one is reluctant wholeheartedly to ascribe to Gibbons on stylistic and other grounds. In Lift up your heads the composer responds vividly to words from Psalm 24. Almighty and everlasting God is an exquisitely fashioned miniature which takes its text from the Collect for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany while O Lord, in thy wrath captures the penitential mood of Psalm 6 with extended phrases and impressive contrasts of texture.
Turning to the verse anthems, Great Lord of Lords was written in 1617 (to the text Great King of Gods) for a visit to Scotland by King James I and ends with a sublime Amen. The text of the masterly, large-scale See, see, the word is incarnate traces Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The opening head-motif (which occurs at two other points) creates unity and continuity. O God, the king of glory, a setting of the Collect for Ascension Day, includes some striking ideas, notably the remarkable tonal shift to depict Christ's ascension and the alternation of short solo and choir sections in the final bars.
In the evening canticles of the Second Service (a verse setting) the musical ideas are vivid with some colourful examples of word-painting and imaginative vocal scoring. The Short Service (in the full style) combines economy with imitative freedom making it ideally suited to liturgical needs.
Gibbons's keyboard music is marked by fluency, restraint, and contrapuntal mastery. The Prelude in G, published in Parthenia (1612-13), is nevertheless a brilliant piece requiring agile finger work. The Prelude in D minor appeared in Benjamin Cosyn's Virginal Book (c. 1620) and is in a concentrated imitative style. The Fantazia of four parts was also published in Parthenia; it is in seven clearly defined sections which are woven together to achieve a seamless and captivating work.
© 1995 Peter James
ReviewsThis is an excellent disc, all of Gibbons and is highly recommendable for those who like their Anglican church music well mannered and manicured. - BBC Radio (3's CD Review ), September 1996