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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

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The Tallis Scholars Sing Tudor Music: Volume 1
CD 1

John BROWNE (d.1505)
Salve regina I [13:23]
Stabat iuxta [12:25]
Stabat mater [15:56]
O regina mundi clara [13:55]
O Maria salvatoris [15:39]
William CORNYSH (d.1523)

Gaude virgo mater Christi [5:30]
CD 2
John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545)

Western Wind Mass [32:23]

Salve regina [13:53]
Ave Maria, mater Dei [3:13]
Christopher TYE (c.1505-c.1573)

Western Wind Mass [27:19]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Salle Church, Norfolk, 1988 (Cornysh), 1993 (Taverner, Tye), 2005 (Browne). DDD.
Booklet with notes, texts and translations.
GIMELL CDGIM209 [76:42 + 76:50]
The Tallis Scholars Sing Tudor Music: Volume 2
CD 1
John SHEPPARD (c.1515-1558)

Media vita [21:45]
Christe redemptor omnium [4:46]
Reges Tharsis [5:04]
Sacris solemniis [7:32]
In manus tuas I [3:28]
In manus tuas II [2:56]
In manus tuas III [2:54]
Verbum caro [6:57]
Western Wind Mass [20:33]
CD 2
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)

In ieiunio et fletu [4:44]
O salutaris hostia [3:02]
O nata lux [2:06]
Robert WHITE (c.1538-1574)

Magnificat [14:48]
Portio mea [7:15]
Regina cæli [3:57]
Christe, qui lux es III [4:55]
Christe, qui lux es IV [5:08]
Exaudiat te Dominus [9:46]
Lamentations (5vv.) [22:05]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Salle Church, Norfolk, 1989 (Sheppard, except Mass), 1992 (Tallis), 1993 (Sheppard Mass), 1995 (White). DDD.
Booklet with notes, texts and translations
GIMELL CDGIM 210 [75:58 + 77:48]
Experience Classicsonline

There is such a wealth of beautiful music here, excellently performed and recorded. It comes on four very well-filled CDs offered as 2-for-1 packages. I scarcely know where to begin, except to recommend both sets in the strongest possible terms and to make them my joint Bargain of the Month. Had I not received them as review copies, I should most definitely have bought them or downloaded those items which I didn’t already own from the Gimell website, where they can be obtained in very decent 320k mp3 sound or in lossless, CD-quality.

The first CD of Volume 1 contains the complete contents of the John Browne recording (CDGIM036), already a generous 71 minutes long, and adds the Cornysh Gaude virgo. I recently compared that Gimell recording with the versions sung by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, the latter spread across three of the five Coro recordings of the music from The Eton Choirbook, available separately or as a 5-for-3 offer (COR16040). The new format of the Gimell recordings makes for even better value than Coro’s 5-CD set.

Rather than repeat the detailed comparison which I made between the two interpretations of John Browne, I refer you to the original article. I’ll merely remind you that I consider John Browne to be arguably the greatest English composer before Tallis, that I marginally preferred the Tallis versions of this music to those of The Sixteen, and that my Musicweb colleague JF was just as enthusiastic about these performances as I am, writing: "Near perfect music from the late fifteenth century sung in glorious style. A most moving and satisfying disc." – see review. With the addition of the Cornysh work, this first CD is worth the cost of the whole volume on its own.

Cornysh reappears on CD2 with two more pieces from CDGIM014. The only possible reason that anyone might have for complaint is that these three pieces will make you want to buy the parent CD, which also contains three setting of English words, including the marvellous Woefully arrayed. This second CD of Volume 1 is rounded off by two Mass settings, by John Taverner and Christopher Tye, both based on the secular tune Western Wynde.

In recommending the first-rate version of the Taverner on Hyperion’s low-price Helios label (CDH55056, The Sixteen/Harry Christophers, Bargain of the Month – see review) I also recommended the Tallis Scholar’s recordings of three Tudor masses based on the Western Wynde theme (CDGIM027) as "a well-filled CD with excellent performances and recording." Now the contents of that disc are offered in a form which makes them commensurate value-wise with the Helios. In fact, both Gimell and Hyperion versions are now offered so inexpensively that you could buy both without too great an outlay, thereby obtaining some other excellent works by Taverner – and don’t forget the other Taverner Mass recordings on Helios CDH55051, 55052, 55053, 55054 and 55055.

The Gimell timings for the Taverner Mass are slightly slower than those on Hyperion: as usual, where the Tallis Scholars savour the more reflective aspects of the music, The Sixteen stress its sheer excitement – which is not to say that either group misses any important aspects of what the other stresses. The only possible reasons for not buying Volume 1 of these new Gimell sets would be the intention to spend the money on the complete Helios CDs or a desire to obtain Gimell’s own all-Taverner coupling of the Western Wynde Mass with the Gloria tibi Trinitas Mass and Kyrie Leroi (CDGIM004).

Even if, like me, you already own that all-Taverner disc, you should still buy Volume 1 for the sake of the Tye Western Wynde Mass, unless you believe that Tye’s connection with Ely Cathedral makes it essential to have the present-day successors of his choristers sing his music (ASV CDGAU190 – not currently available). If the Western Wynde Mass makes you want to look for other music by Tye, you could do much worse than the Oxford Camerata in the Euge bone Mass (Naxos 8.550937).

The ubiquitous Western Wynde tune reappears as the cantus firmus of a third Mass, this time on CD1 of Volume 2, by John Sheppard, where it joins the contents of another Sheppard CD, CDGIM016. Once again, the major challenge comes from The Sixteen on Hyperion – one of two Dyad 2CDs-for-1 sets of Sheppard’s music, CDD22022, on which Latin works, including the Western Wynde Mass, are juxtaposed with later music for the Anglican service. Again, too, The Sixteen are marginally faster than the Tallis Scholars in the Mass, though by a smaller margin than in the Taverner – there’s a mere seven-second difference in the Agnus Dei, for example. Once more, it’s swings and roundabouts between the two groups – and both are now offered at effectively bargain price. If there’s anything in it, the actual Western Wynde tune comes over slightly more clearly against the polyphonic texture on the Gimell recording. If I hadn’t long ago bought three of the four Sheppard/Sixteen CDs when they were issued separately at full price, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase CDD22022 or its companion disc to complement the Gimell recordings.

Finally the Tallis Scholars round off the two volumes with three pieces by their namesake and seven by Robert White. If you are wondering why there is so little Tallis on these two volumes, Gimell have already released two excellent earlier 2-CD sets of The Tallis Scholars singing the music of William Byrd (CDGIM208) and his mentor Thomas Tallis (CDGIM203). There’s Taverner, Byrd, Tallis and William Munday, too, on The Tallis Scholars Live in Oxford (CDGIM998), another first-class recording which I intend to review in my November 2008 Download Roundup. Go for one or both of these joint gold-medallists among Tudor composers first, if you don’t already have recordings of their music. The two new sets offer the very worthy silvers and bronzes.

Robert White, the youngest of the composers on these two sets, is perhaps the most neglected of all those represented here. As far as I am aware, only one CD completely devoted to his music exists (Henry’s Eight on Meridian CDE84313), though individual works are included in anthologies, for example on Treasures of Tudor England (Coro COR16056) where The Sixteen sing two works included on the Tallis Scholars’ selection, the 5-part Lamentations and Christe qui lux es IV, together with music by Parsons and Tye – see review. Unusually, the Scholars offer slightly brisker performances of both works, but once again I could happily live with either.

I recommended the Coro CD alongside the recent Naxos recording of the music of Robert Parsons and see no reason to recant that recommendation: in an ideal world, I’d want both, but if you can afford only one, you’ll have to let the coupling decide.

If, as I hope, ASV decide to reissue their recording Tears and Lamentations, containing White’s 6-part Lamentations and Libera me (last seen on CDQS6151 at budget price), that, too, is very valuable.

Everything about these new Gimell reissues is high quality – performances, recordings, notes and presentation. The multi-lingual notes are excellent, if rather brief – to have amplified them would have made the booklets too fat; they’re already hard to get back in the case. The Holbein illustrations on the covers, labels and inserts set the seal on the enterprise.

I’m not going to claim that The Tallis Scholars offer the only show in the house for Tudor music – you will see from this review and from my article Give Early Music a Chance that the competition from The Sixteen, in the music of the Eton Choirbook and other Tudor music, is intense and there are other individual recordings which I shall mention briefly at the end of this review – but anyone who buys Gimell’s four 2-CD sets will have acquired a very sound base on which to build a library of this wonderful music.

If you buy one or all of these Gimell recordings and/or their Coro rivals and are still looking for more early Tudor music, Alto have just reissued a most enjoyable 77-minute super-bargain selection from two recordings which the Hilliard Ensemble made for Saga over 30 years ago but still sounding fresh: secular and religious music from the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII by Cornysh, Fayrfax, Sheryngham, Henry VIII, Barbireau and that prolific composer Anon (ALC1015: Music for Tudor Kings – see Michael Greenhalgh’s review). The two original recordings surfaced briefly in Saga’s intermittent availability on CD; together with their companion recordings from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. They aren’t quite in the same league as The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen but I have played and enjoyed hearing them regularly. Perhaps Alto will now oblige with the other recordings from this source.

You’ll find yet more Tudor music recommendations in my reviews of the Christ Church recordings of Taverner’s Music for Our Lady (NI5360 – see review), Byrd’s Masses (Nimbus NI5302, 5287 and5237 – see review) of Byrd’s Second Service and Consort Anthems (Harmonia Mundi HMU90 7440 – see MG’s review) and of a wonderful bargain recording of Byrd’s Eastertide Latin music, Music for a Hidden Chapel (Harmonia Mundi HCX395 5182 – see review).

Brian Wilson


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