> TALLIS Vol 1 [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Thomas TALLIS (c.1510-1585)
The Complete Works - Volume 1 (1530-40)

Ave Dei patris filia [15’33"]
Ave rosa sine spinis [11’14"]
Ora pro nobis (c.1535) [3’57"]
Euge celi porta [2’28"]
Missa Salve Intemerata [22’45"]
Salve intemerata [15’54"]
Chapelle du Roi/Alistair Dixon
Recorded in St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London on 23-25 October 1996
SIGNUM SIG001 [71’52"]


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This is the first of a projected full price series to cover Tallis’s complete surviving output from his fifty years of composition, and will include the sacred and secular music, and instrumental material, much of which is as yet unrecorded; this should cover nine discs. Great attention is to be paid to performance detail including pitch, pronunciation and the music’s liturgical context, and as a result new editions of the music are required, many of which will be published by the Cantiones Press.

This recording includes church music written during the first decade of his career, probably between 1530 and 1540. Relatively little is known about Tallis’s life, particularly about his early years. He was probably born in Kent during the first decade of the sixteenth century, and is first noted as an organist at Dover Priory, a small Benedictine monastery consisting of about a dozen monks. The next record is in 1537-8 in London at the parish church of St-Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate, where a choir was maintained capable of singing music in five parts, its repertory including Masses, antiphons, music for the Lady Mass and ‘carolles for cristmas’. In 1538, Tallis had moved to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham in Essex, a monetarily well endowed establishment, very able to maintain a Lady Chapel choir. However, eighteen months later, the abbey was dissolved during the course of the English Reformation. He then became a noted lay-clerk at Canterbury Cathedral (the archbishop at this time was Thomas Cranmer) where he stayed for two years before being appointed a Gentleman (singer) of the Chapel Royal, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

All the works on this disc are from Tallis’s early compositions; Ave Dei patris, Ave rosa spina and Salve inemerata are votive antiphons (settings of devotional texts sung after Compline, the final service of the day, in front of the image or altar of the saint to whom the text was addressed). Missa Salve intemerata is a small-scale setting of the English Mass, whilst Ora pro nobis (An Alleluia) and Euge celi porta are two items from the Lady Mass (the special votive Mass of the Virgin) (a votive Mass is one offered with a particular ‘intention’ or one offered in honour of a saint on some day other than the feast of that saint)

The Chapelle du Roi is a choir of ten young singers specialising in the performance of sacred renaissance music and was founded in October 1994. Its conductor, Alistair Dixon, is an early music singer and conductor. He was educated at Millfield School as a music scholar and graduated from Liverpool University. In 1994 he was appointed a Gentleman in Ordinary at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, and founded Chapelle du Roi in the same year. Throughout the disc, the singing of all parts is uniformly good, with very clear diction, as befits a small group, and great attention to detail. In the first two items, there is, in parts, some slight shakiness of intonation, soon recovered, but unfortunately it occurs in the more exposed passages where it stands out more. The confidence is recovered quickly in the more richly scored ensemble passages. Talking about the scoring, those used to Tallis’s later and more well-known works will be surprised at the bareness and earlier sounding harmonies, much more related to Tallis’s predecessors such as Ludford and Fayrfax (both composers’ works are available on the ASV Gaudeamus label). At times this can sound quite bare and monastic in origin, particularly when preceded by a plainchant introduction; as one approaches the later works this "hair-shirt" sound is replaced by the more familiar false relations and enriched harmonies so typical of Tallis’s music. By the way, at school many of us performing music of this period nicknamed the false relation as "the English cadence"; does anyone else have memories of this rather apt title?

Besides the expertise of the choir and conductor, the booklet is extremely well researched and the history of both Tallis and the works themselves are given the most expert and scholarly treatment (I am grateful for their content in the opening paragraph of this review).One quibble though; the booklet does not state who is singing in what piece, nor the number or type of voice used in each item - a surprising omission in such an otherwise admirable issue. Translations from the Latin text are given in English, French and German for all pieces. Throughout the recording is excellent, with good presence and a satisfying surround. Further discs are awaited with eager anticipation, and to anyone interested in this period of English music, or those wanting to acquire knowledge of the same, this disc is a must. Wholeheartedly recommended.

John Portwood

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