Thomas Tomkins, born in 1572, was one of the most accomplished and versatile English composers of his era. A total mastery of contrapuntal technique and expressive intensity are hallmarks of his style. Here the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, a cornerstone of the great English choral tradition since the 1670s, performs a collection of choral works complemented by several pieces for organ.
Canticles from two of Tomkins’s Services are included, the pieces from the complex and ambitious Third Service contrasting with those of the more modest Sixth, indebted to the style of Tomkins’s teacher William Byrd.
The four fine verse anthems recorded here reveal the range in Tomkins’s expressive capabilities, from the calming pastoral tones of My shepherd is the living Lord to the joyful ebullience of Behold, I bring you glad tidings. Four full anthems are also performed, including the famous When David heard that Absalom was slain, a poignant portrayal of the grief that King David experienced at the death of his son.
This melancholic mood is continued in the best-known of the keyboard works on this album, ‘A Sad Pavan for these distracted times’, written for himself to play privately after losing his position as organist of Worcester Cathedral following its destruction in the English Civil War.