Thomas Tomkins

These Distracted Times

Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Directed by David Skinner

The political intrigue of the early 17th century culminated with the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the beginning of the Commonwealth led by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Thomas Tomkins, the greatest composer of that age, wrote a pavan for ‘these distracted times’ shortly after the King’s execution. This CD provides a mixture of Tomkin’s church and chamber music that soothed troubled souls during these turbulent years.

The recording was made in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where Cromwell was a student and where his severed head remains.

EDITOR’S CHOICE, Gramophone Magazine


Track listing

1. Pavan I
2. Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom
3. Hear my prayer, O Lord
4. The heavens declare
5. Te Deum (The Fifth Service)
6. A Fancy
7. Jubilate (The Fifth Service)
8. O Lord, how manifold
9. Pavan VII
10. I heard a voice from heaven
11. Magnificat (The Fifth Service)
12. Pavan ‘for these distracted times’
13. Nunc dimittis (The Fifth Service)
14. Pavan VIII
15. Remember me, O Lord
16. When David heard
17. My help cometh from the Lord

In the press

“A new label, Obsidian, launches with a collection of vocal music by Thomas Tomkins who, while renowned in his day, is now rather less fashionable than his mentor William Byrd. This disc should do much for Tomkins’s reputation. The performances fairly glow, and so does one’s spirit after traversing this glorious programme. No surprise at the deeply felt playing of Fretwork, but the Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is new to me. They sing with as much sensitivity and soul as many more famous rivals. The vocal ensemble Alamire are marvellously balanced and they boast one heck of a bass in Robert Macdonald. That Tomkins could compose such sublime music living at the same time that Oliver Cromwell cracked down on choral music is astonishing”
- Gramophone Magazine

“The career of Thomas Tomkins straddled several reigns as well as the Cromwell era and this had an impact on his music, which otherwise reflects the influence of his mentor, William Byrd. Vocal textures are varied, clear and satisfying; the instrumental works, too, exude sanity in what were turbulent times. Tomkins favoured the solo bass voice, which introduces four of the sacred choral works here, though others contain ravishing, if brief, duets for tenors and sopranos. Best known is the lament on the death of Absalom, which with the verse anthem My help cometh from the Lord crowns the disc.

In the choral works David Skinner has drawn a beautifully blended sound from his Sidney Sussex Chapel Choir of mixed voices; the solo parts are taken by members of both Alamire (the polished male vocal quartet Skinner founded in 2005) and the choir. Although the organ is present as a solo instrument in the title-track and in A Fancy as well as accompanying Alamire in Theheavens declare, Skinner transcribed the organ parts for the Fifth Service and the closing anthem for viol quartet – a liberty he defends in his engaging booklet-notes and which are so sensitively played by members of the renowned Fretwork. The viol music and much of the church music date from Tomkins's time as organist of Worcester Cathedral, which came to an abrupt end in 1647; he composed the 'Sad Pavan' for organ just two weeks after the execution of Charles I in 1649. Once also a Gentleman of the King's Chapel Royal, Tomkins had good reason to feel 'distracted'. Cromwell happens to have been a member of Sidney Sussex College. The college chapel provides a clear and sympathetic acoustic. It's difficult to know whether Tomkins or Cromwell would have been the more surprised. Tomkins would most certainly have been delighted.”
- Gramophone Classical Music Guide

“Where the Obsidian recording has the edge is in the fuller picture one gets of Tomkins's art, owing to the inclusion of some of the composer's fine chamber works, performed by Fretwork.”
- International Herald Tribune