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Christmas With The Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips.
rec. c.1986-1998, The Church of St Peter and Paul, Salle, Norfolk and Merton College, Oxford. DDD.
Booklet with texts and translations included.
GIMELL CDGIM202
[78:08 + 78:34]
Experience Classicsonline

CD 1
Medieval Carols:

Angelus ad virginem [2:39]
Nowell sing we [3:01]
There is no rose [3:35]
The Coventry Carol: Lullay: I saw [2:19]
Lulla, lulla, thou tiny little child [3:20]
Ave Maria:

Josquin DESPREZ (c1440-1521) Ave Maria for four voices [5:25]
Philippe VERDELOT (c1470/80-before 1552) Beata es virgo/Ave Maria [5:40]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611) Ave Maria for four voices (attrib) [2:15]
Ave Maria for double choir [4:51]
German Chorales:
Michael PRAETORIUS (?1571-1621)

Es ist ein Ros’ [3:06]
Hieronymous PRAETORIUS (1560-1629)

Joseph, lieber Joseph mein [2:30]
In dulci jubilo [3:41]
Flemish Polyphony:
Clemens Non Papa (c.1510-c1555)

Pastores quidnam vidistis [4:43]
Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis [31:15]
CD 2
Chant from Salisbury:

Missa in gallicantu (First Mass of Christmas) [31:15]
Christmas Hymns: Christe Redemptor omnium [3:49];
Veni, Redemptor gentium [4:30];
Salvator mundi, Domine [2:31];
A solis ortus cardine [4:59].
Tudor Polyphony:
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)

Missa Puer natus est nobis (compl. David Wulstan and Sally Dunkley) [23:54]

My colleague Colin Clarke gave an enthusiastic welcome to this 2-for-1 Gimell set in January, 2004 – see review – just missing that year’s Christmas market. I’m trying to atone by getting this review in well before Christmas this year in order to reinforce his strong recommendation.

It was, in fact, my original intention simply to include the download version in my December Download Roundup – scroll down the Musicweb page for these monthly Roundups if you haven’t yet discovered them – but it’s too good a bargain to restrict to that format. In fact, I have for several weeks at the time of writing been experiencing tremendous problems with my downloads – a mast down in my area, which my mobile broadband providers seem unable to fix has caused downloads to proceed at a snail’s pace – so Gimell very kindly supplied me with hard copies of the CDs, in addition to the download, in case the latter proved impossible.

As it happens, I was able, with great patience, to download both CDs as 320k mp3s and was more than happy with the quality. Lossless downloads would have taken too long in the light of my download problems, though I normally recommend them – I’ve always found these to be that little bit better and closer to the original CD sound. In the case of these recordings, the sound quality in mp3 and CD formats is fully up to Gimell’s usual high standards, as also is the presentation and packaging.

What you get here is an excellent cross-section of medieval and renaissance Christmas music, ranging in time from some of the earliest carols to the (unrelated) Prætoriuses (Prætorii?) Michael and Heinrich. Much of the music will be familiar, but much more will probably be a journey of discovery into unfamiliar but enjoyable territory.

Almost the whole contents of CDGIM010 are included here. Angelus ad virginem was a well-known piece in both Latin and English, where it was known as Gabriel fram evene king – Chaucer’s Miller makes the clerk Nicholas sing it ‘So swetely that all the chamber rong’ (Canterbury Tales, I, 3215-6). Most anthologies of medieval Christmas music contain it in one form or another, but it’s so beautifully sung here, with appropriate restraint, that I cannot regret the duplication with other versions. The same is true of the other English pieces; CC rightly praises the singing of the verse ‘Herod the king, in his raging ...’ in Lully, lulla as a high point of the first CD.

Another high point for me is the Scholars’ rendition of Joseph, lieber Joseph mein, especially the closing ‘Hodie apparuit ...’ section. The ensuing singing of In dulci jubilo is also exquisite. Less well known than the English carols and German chorales will be the four juxtaposed settings of Ave Maria, each one a perfect little gem and excellently performed.

The motet Pastores quidnam vidistis and the Mass based on it also receive excellent performances, reminding us that the music of Clemens is uplifting – after all, he must have had a cheeky sense of humour to have called himself Clemens non Papa: Clement, but not the Pope of that name. A wonderful conclusion to a very enjoyable first CD.

The second disc offers the whole contents of CDGIM017 plus the Tallis Missa Puer natus est. This CD may be of more specialist interest than the first, though plainsong clearly does have a general appeal, as witness the best-selling EMI Silos recording of some years ago and the recent well-plugged Universal CD Chant: Music for Paradise – see my recent review of the latter. There are other recordings of one or other of the (three) Masses for Christmas Day, but they are mostly of the post-16th-century Tridentine Mass. The Sarum Rite, employed widely but not universally throughout England, was a much richer affair, containing, for example, a Sequence (CD2, track 7) Nato canunt omnia, one of many such sequences swept away by the Tridentine reformers – sung here to the accompaniment of a bell.

What we are offered amounts to an almost complete celebration, apart from the actual Canon or Prayer of Consecration. The Collect or Prayer for the Day is also omitted, as are the Epistle and Gospel, but the reading from Isaiah is included, presumably because it offers an excellent example of the way in which plainsong was troped in late medieval times. Missals dating from the late 1520s or early 1530s, when this music was almost on its last legs, are employed.

Those with an interest in medieval settings of a Christmas Day Mass, this time of the third and principal Mass of the day, should try Harmonia Mundi HMX297 1148, a mid-price CD on which Ensemble Organum, directed by Marcel Pérès sing a 12th-century setting from the School of Notre Dame.

One small reservation: the addition of the Tallis Mass means that the second CD is especially generously filled, but serious collectors may well already have this or another version of the Tallis. The Mass forms the major part of the contents of CDGIM034; if you want the rest of this rather short CD, you’ll end up duplicating the Mass. The only other small reservation concerns the fact that not all of the Clemens CD, CDGIM013, is included here – if you want the rest, you’ll again, inevitably, duplicate the Mass.

The Tallis Mass has come down to us in incomplete form, though recent manuscript discoveries have enabled scholars to restore more of it than was formerly the case. There is no Kyrie, since it was the common practice of English composers not to set this section, and the Credo has survived in very fragmentary state. What can be reconstructed is, however, of major significance – glorious music, emphatically well worth rescuing – and this Tallis Scholars version matches, if it does not surpass, those of The Sixteen (Music for Philip & Mary, COR16037) and Chapelle du Roi on Volume 3 of their complete works of Tallis (SIGCD003).

Any other reservations? Just one or two very minor points, hardly worth mentioning, such as the fact that I wondered why the hard g is employed in Angelus ad virginem. I’m sure there are good reasons. Conversely, I’m glad that the Scholars don’t try to emulate 15th- and 16th-century English pronunciation in the English texts when attempts to reproduce Tudor pronunciation by the likes of Red Byrd can come across as sounding rather comical.

With illustrations by Filippino Lippi throughout, this is a most attractive set but don’t let its virtues make you overlook the other superb-value 2-CD Tallis Scholars sets from Gimell:

Tallis: Spem in alium, Lamentations I & II, etc. (CDGIM203)

Byrd: the three Masses and the Great Service (CDGIM208)

Tudor Church Music 1 (CDGIM209)

Tudor Church Music 2 (CDGIM210) – see my recent enthusiastic review of these last two sets.

I’m currently thinking about my choices for Recordings of the Year; I’m almost certain to include the two Tudor albums. Those who have not yet committed to the music of this period, however, might well find this Christmas album their ideal point of entry.

Brian Wilson

 

 


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