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Thomas TALLIS (1505Ė1585)
Sancte Deus; Suscipe quaeso Domine; Salvator mundi; Miserere nostri; In ieunio et fletu; If ye love me; Loquebantur variis linquis; Candidi facti sunt; O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit; O nata lux; Videte miraculum; Verily, verily; O salutaris hostia; O sacrum convivium; Thou wast, O God; Jesu, Salvator saeculi; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in the Dorian mode; Te lucis ante terminum
The Rodolfus Choir/Ralph Allwood
rec. December 2004, Eton College Chapel
HERALD HAVPCD 305 [70.34]

 


The Rodolfus Choir is a made up of singers who have participated in the Eton Choral Courses; these are made up of a few intensive days during the holidays when singers from all over the country come together to sing. The Eton Choral Courses are directed by Ralph Allwood, who is the Precentor and Director of Music at Eton. Allwood directs the 36 strong choir on this disc of music by Thomas Tallis.

The choir are young sounding, performing Tallisís music with a concentrated, passionate intensity which impressed me. The sopranos are recognisably female but sing with a lovely, bright, forward, boyish tone.

The disc opens with what may well be the earliest work on the programme, the antiphon Sancte Deus. Tallis could have written this around the time of the dissolution of Waltham Abbey in 1540, but this is not certain. The work is, however, typical of Tallisís early style. The performance is notable for the way the groupís warm-toned climaxes retain the clarity of texture.

The group follows this with a work from the opposite end of Tallisís life. Suscipe quaeso. Stylistically this work, with its emotive text, boldly expressive setting and dramatic use of homophony, probably dates from 1575 when it was published in Tallisís Cantiones Sacrae. But there are arguments that it might date from 1554, for the reign of Queen Mary, as its scoring is similar to the Missa ĎPuer est nobisí. The choirís rich-toned, multi-voiced texture is lovely but unfortunately rather soprano dominated. This is something that troubled me on one or two of the other tracks as well.

The next three pieces all come from Tallisís publication of Cantiones Sacrae and date from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Salvator mundi is a setting of the antiphon for Matins on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a feast which did not survive the Reformation so we must presume it functioned as a devotional text for domestic or church use. Miserere nostri is a wonderful piece of ingenious musical engineering, as it consists of a double canon with a free tenor part. It is possible to dissect the work into its constituent parts but I prefer to sit back and revel in Tallisís gorgeous textures, particularly in a performance as mellifluous as this in which Allwood and his singers manage to imbue the piece with a wonderful spaciousness. In Ieiunio is one of the last pieces that Tallis wrote, another bold experiment in harmonic and textural expressivity; he contrasts the narrative sections with the more emotive words of the priests. Again, the spaciousness of the performance impressed.

Perhaps at this point we should raise the issue of the intended use of the motets in Cantiones Sacrae. The publication had a very limited circulation to just private owners rather than choral foundations, so like some of Byrdís similar publications the pieces were intended as vocal chamber music to be performed by a consort. But not all the pieces were written specially for the 1575 book and had a liturgical life prior to publication. So performance by choir, as on this recording, would seem to be as valid as performance by vocal consort.

Dating for Tallisís music is sometimes a little uncertain, you cannot always assume the piece was written the year of its publication. Being as he wrote under four different monarchs, each of whom had their own distinctive view of the English Church, the liturgical function can sometimes help. But even so, it is difficult differentiating between Latin pieces written late in Henry VIIIís reign and Latin pieces written for Queen Mary. Similarly, it must be borne in mind that the Chapel Royal under Queen Elizabeth also sang elaborate Latin motets. But also during the Elizabethan period Tallis seems to have occasionally looked back to the simplicity of his Edwardian anthems.

Both Loquebantur variis linguis and Candidi facti sunt are responsories with choral sections alternating with plainchant, so they probably date from late in Henry VIIIís reign or from Queen Maryís, when they would have been used in their correct liturgical context. The performance Loquebantur variis linguis was notable for its entrancing rhythmic vitality. The sumptuous, and long, responsory Videte Miraculum is another piece which could come from either late in Henryís reign or from Maryís.

The anthem If ye love me is one of Tallisís works for the Chapel Royal under Edward 6th, where he was influenced by Cranmer and the reformers so that homophony and textual clarity are to the fore. The choir sing it in quite a low key, so the sopranos do not dominate. However, singing in English I felt that they failed to make the most of the English words. O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit was written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, probably for the Chapel Royal, and sets one of Lidleyís prayers of 1566. The setting of the English text is syllabic, there is more use of melisma than his earlier English anthems. Again, Iím afraid that I would have liked the group to make more of the words. But in O nata lux, which is also Elizabethan, Tallis seems to be harking back to the simplicity of his Edwardian anthems.

For Verily, verily there is no manuscript source dating from the Edwardian period, but the similarities of text between this anthem and If ye love me suggest that Verily, verily is also Edwardian. The Biblical text comes from the Great Bible of 1540.

O Salutaris and O sacrum convivium are both Elizabethan settings of antiphons for the feast of Corpus Christi. The reformers attacked this feast with vigour so it is doubtful whether Tallis managed to get the pieces performed in their Latin versions. O sacrum exists in an English version which might be from Tallisís own hand, so perhaps he had to give the motets English texts before he could get them performed. Thou wast God uses Tallisís third tune from Archbishop Parkerís metrical Psalter of 1567 - the eighth tune was made famous in Vaughan Williamsís Tallis Fantasia.

Jesu salvator saeculi and Te lucis ante terminum are responds for Compline. Jesu salvator saeculi is reminiscent of Sheppardís setting of the same text; it seems quite possible that the two composers knew each others work. Jesu salvator is probably an early work, whereas Te lucis was written later and may even be a backward looking Elizabethan piece written specially for Cantiones Sacrae.

The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in the Dorian more were written for Edwardís reign, for the newly instituted service of Evening Prayer. Like his anthems from the period, the settings are economical and clarity of text is paramount. This is one of the earliest paired settings of Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis and is beautifully crafted. The groupís performances highlight the beautiful simplicity of these pieces.

These are lovely, well crafted performances by a choir of young choristers. This youth brings the advantages of clarity of tone and texture but there were moments when I thought that they were perhaps just a little too relaxed and I would have traded some of the youthful freshness for a bit more intensity and feeling for the words.

Robert Hugill

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