, November 2009
This is a Naxos compilation of works by Thomas Tallis, originally recorded for a range of other discs, performed by the Oxford Camerata under the direction of Jeremy Summerly.
The disc features a range of works, in both Latin and English texts, including shorter anthems and mass settings and more extended works. O Sacrum Convivium, written for Elizabeth 1st, features smooth flowing lines and gentle dissonances, and sets the scene for the rest of the disc, with the Oxford Camerata’s blended vocal tone full of expression and resonance. Audivi vocem features plainchant-style sections and choruses, while Discomfort them, O Lord is based on repeated sequences and has a complex monophonic style. Loquebantur variis linguis is a faster work, with imitative entries and rich polyphonic writing interspersed with unison chant settings.
The Sanctus from the Mass for Four Voices is a beautiful setting with strongly characterful word setting, including a bright, major key Gloria and Hosanna. I call and cry to thee, O Lord is an English setting of O Sacrum Convivium and it is interesting to hear the effect of a change of language.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are presented in two separate sets. Set I is well paced, with tempo changes well handled and clearly defined sections. Set II has a beautifully calm and expressive opening, with individual lines entering one by one to build up a stunning five part choral sound. This slow paced music gradually unfolds and provides one of the highlights of the disc.
Videte miraculum features some wonderfully dissonant harmonies, with tension and release an important element of the interaction between the parts. Another slow-moving work, this has a contemplative feel, using mostly simple rhythms and alternating between monophonic writing and polyphony.
The disc ends with the impressive forty-part motet Spem in alium, arguably one of Tallis’s most well-known and dazzling works, with eights choirs of five voices combining to create an elaborate tapestry of sound. Harmonic shifts come like waves, and the full force of all forty voices in the tutti sections has a sense of powerful expression. It is hard to hear definition in the individual parts in this recording (although some come through better than others) and it is difficult to capture the effect of this piece on a recording; this is one piece where a live performance holds an extra dimension, especially if the choirs can be separated around the audience. Nevertheless, the overall effect works well and this is an enjoyable recording.
The choir is impressive throughout this disc, although the blend of voices varies between tracks (presumably because the recordings were made at different times with slight alterations to personnel). Hearing this selection of works by one composer gives a fascinating insight into the range of Tallis’ music, both in terms of compositional style and textural use of the choir. His vocal writing has a sense of naturalness and paved the way for generations of composers after him, defining a style and creating a lineage of British choral music. This disc serves as an excellent way to explore his output, with some beautiful singing from the Oxford Camerata.