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A Wolf Hall to Call Your Own

June 12, 2015

Wolf Hall: The Tudor Music coverYou’ve perhaps read at least one of Hilary Mantel’s two Wolf Hall books, watched the PBS miniseries, seen the two-part adaptation by the Royal Shakespeare Company on Broadway, or just given thanks you don’t live back then. Whatever your relation to this cultural landmark, you can now play out your own Tudor-era paean to pageantry and royal heap of heartbreak at home, thanks to the brand new recording of a follow-up to Debbie Wiseman’s modern soundtrack to the miniseries.

Wolf Hall: The Tudor Music, released in the United States on June 9 by VIA (Vision into Art) Records, was sourced and arranged by Claire van Kampen. A period instrument recording of some of the authentic Tudor music used in the PBS series, including several pieces attributed to Henry VIII, it serves as a backdrop for the rise of Thomas Cromwell and fall of Anne Boleyn.

Van Kampen’s compilation alternates trumpet fanfares, harpsichord flourishes, lute laments, and other blasts from the past with atmospheric interludes. Performed on authentic instruments by the Musicians of Shakespeare’s Globe, the music was recorded in London’s famed Abbey Road Studios. It’s mostly well played, save for some fudging and smudging in the most challenging trumpet passages. Nothing lasts longer that 3:12, with many of the 20 tracks so short that you may not give them much thought as they whizz by. Which, to be perfectly honest, is just fine for music that was often intended, from day one, to serve as background for matters both regal and pompous.

The album is available for both hi-resolution and CD-quality streaming (24/44.1) and download from Qobuz, and will hopefully soon become available in hi-res from Tidal. Of course it’s also available from iTunes, Amazon, and all the usual suspects.

Before you stream, download, or buy, you can hear short, low-resolution mp3 bits of the soundtrack for free on Qobuz. While mp3 degrades the beautiful, early instrument timbres that Bay Area music lovers have learned to treasure, the snippets will help you decide if the compilation is your cup of tea… or poison.

If, after listening to those 20 tidbits, nothing has stayed with you, be assured that the full-length versions will be similarly unfulfilling. Then again, if secular Tudor music thrills you to the core – here’s a generous helping of different Tudor Court Music via YouTube, performed by New York Pro Musica — this colorfully-recorded soundtrack is for you. Frankly, I’d much rather listen to The Spy’s Choirbook, a beautiful recording on Obsidian Records of recently-unearthed French religious choral music that was presented to Henry VIII by a French diplomat.

Then again, that wouldn’t be English, would it?

Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.