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John TAVERNER (c. 1490-1545)
Kyrie (Le Roy) [
Western Wind Mass [25:08]
William CORNYSH (d. 1523)
Woefully Arrayed [7:22]
ANONYMOUS (c. 1510)
Ah, My Dear Son [5:43]
SHERYNGHAM (c. 1500)
Ah, gentle Jesu [6:02]
John BROWNE (fl. c. 1480-1505)
Jesu, mercy [9:21]
Christopher TYE (c. 1505-1573)
In Pace
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier       
rec. 19-24 July 2004, St. Paul’s Church, Copenhagen.
DA CAPO 8.226050 [65:32]
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Although John Taverner stands as one of
England’s 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.

His 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.

Ars 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.

The 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.

Hillier 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.

To 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. 

Kevin Sutton


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