The founding of a new record label can be a daunting task in an already crowded and competitive field. Yet there are labels whose unusual offerings attract not only music lovers but also critical acclaim.
Obsidian Records, a new English record company, is one such label that has already achieved a measure of success in the short period of time that they’ve been around. Three years and five releases later, Obsidian has clearly defined itself as a label with world-class performances and unique programming.
Performers on Obsidian releases include the vocal ensemble Alamire (directed by David Skinner), the viola da gamba consort Fretwork, the Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and the QuintEssential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble, in addition to lutenist Lynda Sayce and harpist Andrew Lawrence King.
So far, Obsidian has devoted its releases to music from the Renaissance, focusing primarily on vocal repertoire both large and small.
Obsidian takes its title and its reason for being from its namesake found in nature. The company’s own description is quite fitting:
“Obsidian is a volcanic substance which in early times was prized for its magical properties. Its black surface can be highly polished and thus reflect an image of its beholder. From the darkness comes a light, and ancient lore has it that the viewer can choose to see many things beyond a pure reflection. Obsidian Records seeks to provide that illumination to the past and its music.”
The vocal ensemble Alamire can be found on most of Obsidian’s releases to date. Their presence gives a sense of continuity and consistency to every recording. Founded in 2005 by David Skinner, the group has quickly made a name for itself as a leading English ensemble devoted to consort music of the Renaissance.
Of the Obsidian releases from 2009, the music of German composer Ludwig Senfl was the focus of an entire recording. The program includes his Missa Paschalis as well as a number of songs and motets. Senfl is one of the most famous composers from the German Renaissance, and not the least of reasons being that Martin Luther liked his music.
Their latest offering is a program of music surrounding Henry VIII and includes compositions attributed to him in addition to songs from a Royal Choirbook.
Here’s avideo of Alamire celebrating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s coronation: