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Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

The excellent Ars Nova Copenhagen sings Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, interspersed—as it would have been at a service—with beautiful works by Fairfax, White, Byrd, Tallis and more by Taverner.

J.F. Weber
Fanfare, May 2009

This marvelous program of Tudor choral singing is not diminished by some necessary quibbles about the pieces selected. The notes describe the program as Taverner’s Mass surrounded by chant Propers for the appropriate feast of the Holy Trinity and works of composers of the generations before and after him. Yet the only chant Propers are the introit and gradual, nor is a troped Kyrie supplied. The rest of the program consists of a chant hymn as well as hymns and a canticle by the other composers, all of which belong to the Office, not the Mass…Missa Gloria tibi trinitas is the outstanding work and the one most recorded, here for the seventh time in nearly half a century…Yet simply as a total musical program the disc demonstrates elegance and tonal beauty…So take this along with Hillier’s previous issue on its own terms. The notes are satisfactory and the presentation is elegant.

William J Gatens
American Record Guide, March 2009

This is the second of a pair of discs from Paul Hillier and Ars Nova Copenhagen under the title “Taverner & Tudor Music”. In each case, a polyphonic mass by John Taverner (c1490–1545) is presented with music by elder and younger contemporaries. The first recording (DaCapo 8.226050) combined Taverner’s Western Wind Mass with non-liturgical settings of English carol texts on the Passion of Christ by Cornysh, Sheryngham, and Browne plus a Compline respond setting by Christopher Tye. The present program combines Taverner’s Gloria Tibi Trinitas Mass with plainsong propers for the mass and office for Trinity Sunday, a Magnificat by Robert Fayrfax (1464–1521), and Compline hymns by Robert White (c1534–1578), William Byrd (1543–1623), and Thomas Tallies (c1505–1585). It is worth noting that the plainsong is Gregorian rather than Serum.

Gloria Tibi Trinitas is one of three six-part festal masses by Taverner. It is a cantus firmus mass based on a psalm antiphon from Second Vespers of Trinity Sunday. Apart from being an outstanding work in its own right, it gave rise to an English instrumental genre, the “In Nomine”. Taverner’s setting of the text “In Nomine Domini” from the Benedictus of this mass was so admired that it was often transcribed separately for instruments, and a great many composers wrote original instrumental fantasias based on the same cantus firmus, There are two examples in the viol fantasias of Henry Purcell.

Taverner’s mass was probably written during the composer’s brief tenure (1526–1530) as the first master of choristers at Cardinal College, Oxford, founded by Thomas Wolsey and later refounded (1546) by Henry VIII as the present day Christ Church, whose chapel is also the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford. In many respects Taverner’s mass is a continuation of the aesthetic found among the older generation of composers whose works are in the Eton Choirbook (c1505). It is a style that cultivates an otherworldly ecstasy, unfolding the text with solemn deliberation, often with long flights of intricate counterpoint that may prolong single syllables. Another prominent characteristic is the alternation of passages for the full ensemble with sections for fewer voices. It is fascinating to compare on a single recording Taverner’s mass with the Magnificat Regale by Fayrfax (from the Eton Choirbook).

The small choral ensemble (3–3–5–4 for the present recording, though for some pieces the alto section is expanded to five voices) has straight-toned sopranos and altos—very much a modern-day early-music choral sound that is especially suited to the delineation of contrapuntal lines. The performances are technically unimpeachable, but, more than that, they have an expressive warmth we do not always hear in music from this period. It is not a matter of self-indulgent subjectivity, but I believe it to be the result of a keen sense of phrase trajectory that is so essential in this idiom, with its long, soaring lines.

Listeners who admire this repertory will not go wrong with this recording and its companion volume.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, February 2009

In their second album of music featuring English composer John Taverner (who died in 1545), this a capella group has assembled a sung Mass that incorporates Taverner’s Gloria tibi Trinitas setting with a selection of other richly polyphonic works by contemporaries and some plainsong chant.

This is nearly 74 minutes of gorgeously balanced, acoustically spacious, aural bliss. There’s something new to appreciate with every fresh spin.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, February 2009

This is the second of Ars Nova Copenhagen’s Taverner discs. The first centred on Taverner’s Western Wynde Mass [8.226050] and at least one commentator said that it was the version which succeeded best in dispelling his doubts about whether the mass ever quite transcends the four-square element in its construction.

This new disc uses Taverner’s Gloria Tibi Trinitas mass as its main work. Like the first disc, Paul Hillier intersperses the movements of the mass with other motets and plainchant to create a more liturgical feel. They open the disc with Fayrfax’s glorious Magnificat ‘Regale’ from the Eton Choir Book and continue with motets by White, Byrd and Tallis.

The presence of the Fayrfax makes this disc something of a hymn to the great Tudor choir books. The Taverner mass is found in the Forrest-Heather part-books which were compiled for use at Cardinal College, where Taverner was choirmaster. His time there proved to be brief as the choral provision at the college was vastly reduced on Cardinal Wolsey’s fall.

The title of the Taverner mass comes from the plainchant ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ which is a Vespers antiphon for Trinity Sunday. Hilliard and Ars Nova Copenhagen include the plainchant propers for Trinity Sunday, thus allowing us to hear the plainchant which forms the cantus firmus of the mass.

The choir of Cardinal College comprised 16 choristers and 12 clerkes; Ars Nova Copenhagen deploys some 15 to 17 singers, with women sopranos and altos. They make a goodly noise and the performances on this disc are notable for the excitement and vigour which the singers bring to this music.

Fayrfax came from the previous generation to Taverner, and his elaborate 5-part Magnificat ‘Regale’ is filled with rhythmic energy and brilliantly elaborate contrapuntal parts. It makes an apt complement to Taverner’s 6-part Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas. The choir are similarly glorious in this music. In both works, the solo sections work very well, with the unnamed single voices providing fine contrast to the larger-scale full passages. The tessitura of the soprano part occasionally seems to give the singers pause. The top line of both works is high, in the typical early Tudor manner but generally the sopranos are ideally flexible and light…Robert White came from a later generation than Taverner. He seems to have had a fondness for the Vespers hymn Christe ui lux es et dies because he made four settings of it. Each alternates chant with a setting which is woven around the chant. Here Hillier and his group perform the final two, each a gentle and tiny masterpiece. Byrd made his own setting of the same words and this setting is also included on the disc. In it Byrd sets himself a technical challenge—and succeeds, of course. Each verse has the chant threaded through it, but in a steadily higher voice starting with bass in verse 1 and ending with soprano in verse 5. Part of the charm of Byrd’s technical solution is that it is possible to appreciate the piece without ever knowing this. The group finishes with Tallis’s Te lucis ante terminum—another masterly little work.

The group is recorded in quite a generous acoustic, but the recording preserves the vigour and clarity of their singing and individual lines have both clarity and vitality.

The CD booklet includes an informative article by Sally Dunkley together with full texts and translations…This is definitely a disc for those for whom many recordings of music from this period come into the perfect but cool category. Hillier and his singers, whilst retaining sufficient perfection, bring the elaborate music brilliantly to life., January 2009

Taverner & Tudor Music II is, as the title indicates, the second disc of music featuring the excellent Danish vocal ensemble Ars Nova Copenhagen [TAVERNER & TUDOR MUSIC I: The Western Wind is available on DACAPO 8.226050]. There is some glorious music of England’s Tudor era here, represented primarily by—as the CD’s subtitle makes clear—the Mass Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner (c. 1490-1545). The CD’s arrangement, though, is well-meant in theory but rather capricious in practice. Taverner’s work, like other Masses, is of course intended to be sung in sequence, from the “Gloria” to the “Agnus Dei.” But on this CD, other works are interpolated among Taverner’s movements: some plainchant antiphons on similar texts, which arguably makes historical (or at least scholarly) sense, and some works by other composers of Taverner’s time or later, which really makes no sense at all. A listener can certainly program the CD’s playback to present Taverner’s Mass as it was intended to be heard, but the fact is that Paul Hillier and Ars Nova Copenhagen designed the disc to be heard in a different way—one that does not quite work. Some of the non-Taverner pieces here are excellent in their own right, notably Magnificat Royale by Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521). There are also fine works by Robert White (c. 1534-1578), William Byrd (1543-1623) and Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)

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