Although John Taverner stands as one
greatest musical minds, there is very
little known about his life. It is known
that he grew up in Lincolnshire,
and that he very likely worked in London. He was the first choirmaster of Cardinal College,
Oxford, and, after
his patron Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from
the grace of Henry VIII in 1530, settled
in Boston (England, not Massachusetts)
where he lived until his death.
Western Wind Mass is one of three extant settings using this
somewhat bawdy secular tune as its cantus firmus. The others
are by John Sheppard and Christopher Tye. The Taverner mass
contains the tune some thirty-six times. The result is an
amazing example of early renaissance polyphony, a work of
transparent and radiant beauty.
Nova Copenhagen under Paul Hillier’s able baton presents a
disc of nearly flawless singing. It is quite easy to lapse
into the mode of “mono-pretty” when presenting this music.
That is, the tendency to sing with an incessantly mellifluous
tone, perfect in rhythm and intonation but utterly lacking
in interest. It is a flaw that appears regularly in discs
by the Tallis Scholars. The saints be praised, Mr. Hillier
never allows this to happen, and we have a performance that
is every bit as emotionally engaging as it is ethereally beautiful.
choir from Copenhagen, from the looks of their photograph
is made up of relatively young singers, and the agility and
purity of their singing belies this. Yet, it has been some
time indeed since I have heard a choir sing with such intellectual
and musical maturity as this one. Would God the Americans
could have the kind of vocal tradition (and popular support
thereof) that is found in blessed Scandinavia.
has chosen to present the mass as it might have appeared in
an actual liturgy, with motets from Taverner’s contemporaries
interspersed between the movements. This makes for a nice
flow to the mass setting, never intended to be performed without
pause for the appropriate liturgical actions.
sum it up, this is flawless singing from every point of view.
There is a second disc of Taverner’s music available from
the same forces, and if this one is any indication, a purchase
of both is a must.