At His Majesty’s Pleasure by Martyn Harry, His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts (Sfz Music sfxm0412, 2012).
Cornetts: Jamie Savan, Jeremy West, Gawain Glenton, Sam Goble, Sackbuts: Adam Woolf, Abigail Newman, Miguel Tantos, Steve Saunders, chamber organ, harpsichord: Michael Bonaventure, harpsichord: Kathryn Cok, Conductor: Martyn Harry.
Those who attended the HBS Symposium in New York this past July 2012 had the chance to hear His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts perform a substantial portion of this contemporary large-scale 19 movement suite. It is an imaginative program piece called an “instrumental opera” that depicts the enthronmement, brief reign, and ultimate abdication of an imagined Tudor child-King of 550 years ago.
Harry wrote a virtuoso piece that effectively captures the qualities of the cornett and sackbut ensemble but does so with many tonal contemporary techniques. Each movement depicts a department or member of the Royal Household and the child-King’s struggle with the political forces and intrigue set at play to maintain the status quo of the State.
The instrumentation in the movements varies and range from instrumental solos to scoring for the full ensemble accompanied by two keyboards. The writing, although contemporary in style, is largely tonal. Martyn Harry is able to capture the drama of the imaginary young monarch with great skill. This piece is a virtuoso work and the members of HMS&C perform with great precision and musicality even though the music certainly takes them out of the typical comfort zone of a cornett and sackbut group. Live performance adds an important dimension to this theatre piece but as it is an instrumental work with no theatrical dialogue this CD recording still captures the dramatic quality of the story. I hope other composers might follow Martyn Harry’s lead and add more literature of this type to the ever expanding contemporary repertoire for early brass instruments.
-- Jeffrey Nussbaum