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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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