is the second of Ars Nova Copenhagen’s Taverner discs.
The first centred on Taverner’s Western Wynde Mass
) and at least one commentator said that it was the
succeeded best in dispelling his doubts about whether the
mass ever quite transcends the four-square element in its
new disc uses Taverner’s Gloria Tibi Trinitas
as its main work. Like the first disc, Paul Hillier intersperses
the movements of the mass with other motets and plainchant
to create a more liturgical feel. They open the disc with
Fayrfax’s glorious Magnificat ‘Regale’
Eton Choir Book and continue with motets by White, Byrd
presence of the Fayrfax makes this disc something of a
hymn to the great Tudor choir books. The Taverner mass
is found in the Forrest-Heather part-books which were compiled
for use at Cardinal College, where Taverner was choirmaster.
His time there proved to be brief as the choral provision
at the college was vastly reduced on Cardinal Wolsey’s
title of the Taverner mass comes from the plainchant ‘Gloria
which is a Vespers antiphon for Trinity
Sunday. Hilliard and Ars Nova Copenhagen include the plainchant
propers for Trinity Sunday, thus allowing us to hear the
plainchant which forms the cantus firmus
choir of Cardinal College comprised 16 choristers and 12
clerkes; Ars Nova Copenhagen deploys some 15 to 17 singers,
with women sopranos and altos. They make a goodly noise
and the performances on this disc are notable for the excitement
and vigour which the singers bring to this music.
came from the previous generation to Taverner, and his
elaborate 5-part Magnificat ‘Regale’
is filled with
rhythmic energy and brilliantly elaborate contrapuntal
parts. It makes an apt complement to Taverner’s 6-part Missa
Gloria Tibi Trinitas
. The choir are similarly glorious
in this music. In both works, the solo sections work very
well, with the unnamed single voices providing fine contrast
to the larger-scale full passages. The tessitura of the
soprano part occasionally seems to give the singers pause.
The top line of both works is high, in the typical early
Tudor manner but generally the sopranos are ideally flexible
annoyingly the CD liner notes do not indicate what pitch
the Taverner is sung at and, lacking a printed score, I
am entirely unable to determine whether Hillier performs
the mass at the high pitch which modern scholarship suggests,
but I suspect that they don’t.
has obviously urged his singers on vigorously and there
are one or two passages, particularly in the Magnificat
where you can feel the choir being goaded on by Hillier
and just failing to follow him. This is a small point and
does not greatly detract from the performance; frankly
I am not sure I would have noticed but at the moment I
am rehearsing the Magnificat
with my own group so
was paying particular heed to it.
White came from a later generation than Taverner. He seems
to have had a fondness for the Vespers hymn Christe
ui lux es et dies
because he made four settings of
it. Each alternates chant with a setting which is woven
around the chant. Here Hillier and his group perform the
final two, each a gentle and tiny masterpiece. Byrd made
his own setting of the same words and this setting is also
included on the disc. In it Byrd sets himself a technical
challenge - and succeeds, of course. Each verse has the
chant threaded through it, but in a steadily higher voice
starting with bass in verse 1 and ending with soprano in
verse 5. Part of the charm of Byrd’s technical solution
is that it is possible to appreciate the piece without
ever knowing this. The group finishes with Tallis’s Te
lucis ante terminum
- another masterly little work.
group is recorded in quite a generous acoustic, but the
recording preserves the vigour and clarity of their singing
and individual lines have both clarity and vitality.
CD booklet includes an informative article by Sally Dunkley
together with full texts and translations.
said how much I enjoyed this disc, then I have to confess
that there is one place where you ought to look if you
are interested in a performance of Taverner’s Missa
Gloria Tibi Trinitas
. In 2007 Christ Church Cathedral
Choir - the present day successors to Taverner’s Cardinal
College Choir - issued a recording of the mass under their
conductor Stephen Darlington. This was the first recording
of the work by the sort of choir - men and boys - which
Taverner had in mind. And it is a release which demands
to be taken seriously. So the choice is yours, depending
on your views on the boy trebles v. female sopranos controversy.
This is definitely
a disc for those for whom many recordings of music from
this period come into the perfect but cool category. Hillier
and his singers, whilst retaining sufficient perfection,
bring the elaborate music brilliantly to life.
might hear more polished and perfect performances than
this one. But I don’t think you will hear one which excites
more, or one which better captures the rhythmic vitality
of this brilliant but tricky music.