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Audivi Vocem
Thomas TALLIS
(c. 1505-1585)
In ieiunio et fletu [4:25]
Te lucis ante terminum [2:19]
Audivi vocem [3:59]
Christopher TYE (c.1505-1572)
Omnes gentes [5:04]
Gloria Missa Sine Nomine [7:09]
John SHEPPARD (c. 1515-1558)
Gaudete celicole omnes [5:55]
Beati omnes [6:39]
Christopher TYE
Credo (from Missa Sine Nomine) [6:39]
Thomas TALLIS
Salvator mundi [2:30]
John SHEPPARD
Laudate pueri Dominum [6:11]
Christopher TYE
Sanctus (from Missa Sine Nomine) [5:56]
John SHEPPARD
Eterne rex, altissime [4:05]
Christopher TYE
Agnus Dei (from Missa Sine Nomine) [5:13]
In pace, in idipsum [5:02]
Hilliard Ensemble: (David James (counter-tenor); Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor); Steven Harrold (tenor); Gordon Jones (baritone); Robert Macdonald (bass))
rec. March 2005, Propstei St. Gerold. DDD
ECM NEW SERIES 1936 [72:06]
Experience Classicsonline

With the ever-increasing list of awards and praise for the Hilliard Ensemble, any of their releases will be cause for interest among collectors, and jubilation among purveyors of good music. This new CD will be especially welcome, as it sees the Hilliard Ensemble returning to its roots in early music, this time of that period broadly known as the Reformation.
 
It seems remarkable, but the last time the Hilliard Ensemble approached a programme of British music from this period was in 1987 with their Tallis recording “The Lamentation of Jeremiah”, on ECM New Series 1341. This new disc offers an opportunity to hear performances of music from the early English a cappella repertoire of Thomas Tallis, Christopher Tye and John Sheppard, who were all active during a period when Britain’s political and religious landscape swung violently between Catholicism and Protestantism.
 
It was Henry VIII who famously broke the ties with Rome, but he nonetheless remained Catholic in his liturgical taste. His successor Edward VI introduced a puritanical Protestant regime, which inevitably had a considerable effect on church music. By contrast Queen Mary restored a fervent Catholicism, and only when Elizabeth I gained the throne in 1558 was a moderately Protestant compromise reached. Composers in this turbulent period consequently had to adapt to these frequent and often extreme liturgical changes, and those on this CD all profited from the ensuing musical developments and managed to shape it for themselves. David Skinner prepared the scores and offered academic advice for this programme. He writes in his booklet notes that “The Reformation, it transpires, was a very good thing for music: it forced composers to explore a variety of compositional techniques, and, most importantly, how better to set a text. It was these skills, developed, tried and tested by the likes of Tye, Sheppard and Tallis that set the foundation for the next generation of composers.”
 
Comparing the Hilliard of 1987 with that of now shows few real differences. Paul Hillier has now moved on to other things, and his baritone is replaced by Gordon Jones, but the distinctive counter-tenor of David James is still a defining factor in the vocal colour of the ensemble. Propstei St. Gerold is a less effusive acoustic than the All Hallows London used for the ‘Lamentations’ CD, and so the feeling is more intimate with this present recording, with the ensemble sounding less like a choir, something which harmonises nicely with this kind of music. As with many of the Hilliard’s recordings, this programme has been carefully assembled. Tye’s gorgeous “Missa Sine Nomine” serves as the backbone for a suite of responses, antiphons and anthems by all three English composers, and the result is a highly satisfying ‘fantasy mix’ of styles unified by period and intent, but varying surprisingly in a myriad of subtle stylistic features.
 
John Sheppard has long been a favourite of mine, and his hard-to-analyse individualistic approach is reflected in expressive lines, distinctive contrapuntal variation and the deliberate emotional impact of delaying vocal entries for full effect. Tallis’s own style of rich harmonic movement is amply expressed in the Salvator Mundi, which manages to sound as if far more than five voices are involved. Christopher Tye is probably the least well known of the three on this disc, and details on his life are sketchy, though he seems to have produced most of his work during the reign of Edward VI. We can only lament that so little of his music survives to this day, as the mass movements performed here are truly magnificent. David Skinner’s booklet essay is titled ‘The Weight of the Word’. It is the contrast in emphasis between homophonic and contrapuntal devices which adds a lively and engaging touch to the communication of the liturgical messages in the text. The spine-tingling beauty of some of the passages in his Sanctus are something of a highlight on a disc which is in itself a glorious artefact from beginning to end.
 
Dominy Clements
 

 


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