This review is by way of a postscript to my colleague RH’s appreciation
of the CD reissue of this recording (see review).
As a late convert to downloading, disappointed at the poor quality
of many mp3 downloads at as low as 128kbps, I decided to try the
320kbps recordings offered by Chandos and, more recently, by Gimell
(link to home-page).
This Palestrina recording, one of Gimell’s 25th-anniversary
reissues, is available at £5.99 in mp3 format and £6.99 in CD-quality
WMA or FLAC format. I downloaded the former and was very pleasantly
surprised. Even in such demanding music, the recording was
more than satisfactory. Admittedly, my hearing, now well into
its seventh decade, is less acute than it was, but the quality
of this download is certainly superior to BBC Radio 3’s 192kbps
on DAB. Though these recordings are over twenty years old and,
presumably, in 16-bit sound – Gimell offer their latest downloads
in 24-bit quality which is actually superior to CD sound – they
might have been freshly recorded. The clarity of sound, so
characteristic of the Tallis Scholars is no whit diminished.
The mp3 download takes up only 173MB; the lossless versions
take up more of your monthly allocation; they run to 291 and
RH described the reissue as a wonderful treat for
lovers of Palestrina’s music, amongst whom I certainly count
myself. Much as I love the work of other polyphonic composers,
it is to Palestrina that I return with the greatest satisfaction.
I cannot quarrel in that respect with the judgement of Organ
Morgan in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, whose number
one composer was “Johann Sebastian mighty Bach ... and afterwards
These may not be Palestrina’s best-known works
– that honour must go to the Missa Papæ Marcelli, especially
since it recently featured on BBC4’s Sacred Music series
– and I had not come across either Mass before, but it is in
no way inferior to his better-known music (but see below for
the Tallis Scholars’ own recording of the Missa Papæ Marcelli).
Musicologists will find special interest in the
echoes of that great master of an earlier generation of polyphonic
composers, Josquin, whose setting of Beata es provides
the inspiration for the first of these works. Track 1 offers
the plainchant setting of that piece in honour of the Virgin
Mary, followed on track 2 by Josquin’s version.
Both Masses are, in fact, inspired by the works
of earlier composers, Nasce la gioja mia being based
on a madrigal by Primavera, but the general listener need not
worry about any such considerations – just sit back and enjoy.
The Primavera madrigal itself is no longer included on an already
very well-filled recording, as it was in its earlier coupling,
which is still listed in the current Penguin Guide.
As RH notes, scholarly thinking and practice have
both moved on since the Tallis Scholars’ earliest recordings,
but these early performances are still well worth hearing.
I note that their earliest recording, of Allegri’s Miserere
and the Missa Papæ Marcelli, first issued on a Classics
for Pleasure LP, is also included in the anniversary reissues
at the same low price. I well remember the enjoyment of hearing
that recording and look forward to making its acquaintance again,
though my library is well stocked with other versions of the
ubiquitous Allegri and Papæ Marcelli.
Yes, other groups, such as Alessandrini’s Concerto
Italiano, offer a more exciting sound in Renaissance repertoire
– and I certainly prefer their Monteverdi to just about every
other version on offer – but there is still much to be said
for the more contemplative style on this Gimell recording.
The excitement is inherent in the music as it soars in the musical
equivalent of high-vaulted ecclesiastical architecture. In
any case, I believe that this is the only recording of either
of these Masses.
I follow RH’s drift, too, when he mentions the
different perspective which the inclusion of plainsong propers
can bring to the performance of such music. Much as I appreciate
the value of such an enterprise when well performed – Paul McCreesh’s
various liturgical reconstructions on Virgin and DGG Archiv
are a prime example – I welcome the opportunity here just to
soak up the polyphony without interruption. And, to conclude
by quoting RH again, “you cannot go wrong with the stylish perfection
of the Tallis Scholars”.
Download the music, using the free Download Manager
which Gimell offer, if you don’t already have one, play the
tracks via the PC or burn the results onto a CDR – I still like
to have a physical object to hold and play – and you have a
treasurable experience to repeat as often as you wish. Don’t
forget to download and print out the booklet – the full version,
with excellent notes and texts, as included with the CD. Don’t
panic if nothing seems to happen for a long time when you play
the recording – Gimell like to preface the music with quite
a long period of ambiance on all their recordings.
If you don’t wish to download, just buy the CD
but, one way or another, get this recording.
The quality of this download has already led me
to follow up with Gimell’s more recent version of Josquin’s
Missa Sine Nomine and Missa ad Fugam (CDGIM039),
with equal satisfaction – expect my enthusiastic review shortly.