Any new recording of the Missa Corona Spinea faces the
very considerable competition of the Hyperion recording with
The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, available on a single CD
on the budget Helios label (CDH55051 – see review)
or in the recent box of renaissance masterpieces, The Golden
Age of English Polyphony (CDS4401/10 – see my review
by Ralph Moore). The Sixteen’s recording of Dum transisset
Sabbatum I and the Leroy Kyrie also feature in the
Golden Age box and on CDH55054, with the Missa O Michael,
and there are equally distinguished accounts of both these works
with Taverner’s Western Wynde Mass and Missa Gloria
Tibi Trinitas from The Tallis Scholars on Gimell CDGIM004.
I also happen to know that The Tallis Scholars have a recording
session for the Missa Corona Spinea due later in 2010.
O splendor glorie, which the Delphian notes point out
may have been co-authored with Christopher Tye, is also on the
Hyperion Golden Age box set and on a third Helios disc,
CDH55056, with The Western Wynde Mass.
If you prefer Taverner’s music sung by a cathedral choir, Nimbus
have a recording of several of these works performed by the
descendants of the choristers for whom he probably composed
the music when he was their informator at Cardinal College
Oxford – now Christ Church. They sing the two settings of Dum
transisset Sabbatum and Kyrie le Roy (so spelled
on that CD) on NI5360 – see my review.
More recently, they have re-recorded Dum transisset I for
Avie, with the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas (AV2123 – see
Gary Higginson’s review).
Against such formidable competition, one might expect the Delphian
recording to be little better than an also-ran. I couldn’t resist
listening to it out of the order in which I had received my
review discs to see if I could prove myself wrong. In the event,
I was much more than pleasantly surprised, particularly by Duncan
Ferguson’s chosen tempi. The Sixteen are no slouches, but Ferguson’s
choir beats them to the post in every section of the Mass, and
in Dum transisset I and Leroy Kyrie. Less surprisingly,
in Dum transisset and the Kyrie, they are also
faster than the tempo which Peter Phillips sets for the Tallis
I had got as far as an initial run-through and been very impressed
with what I had heard when I discovered that my colleague John
Quinn had got in ahead of me and made this CD Recording of
the Month, a decision about which I have absolutely no reservations.
He has given a good deal of background information in his review.
The first, more elaborate setting of the Easter Day Matins respond
Dum transisset is Taverner’s most often performed work;
I have associated it with the Missa Corona spinea ever
since the two were coupled long ago on a Saga LP (STXID5369).
The St Mary’s Choir make as good a fist of it as any that I
have ever heard. Even more importantly, they sing the less elaborate,
less well known, second setting equally well and give us a wonderful
opportunity to compare the two.
It was not unusual for sixteenth-century composers to set just
the opening Kyrie section of the Mass and to omit that
section in complete festal settings, so it makes a useful sequence
to precede the Kyrie-less Missa Corona spinea
with the Leroy Kyrie. The Sixteen follow a similar practice
on their recording of the Missa O Michael (CD2 of CDS44401/10
or CDH55054) and the Tallis Scholars use it to precede the Missa
Gloria tibi Trinitas. Two different modern editions of the
Leroy Kyrie exist: one offers Kyrie eleison – Christe
eleison – Kyrie eleison once each, in four parts throughout,
as sung by the Tallis Scholars. The more elaborate version achieves
the traditional nine-fold prayer by alternating with the four-part
setting short sections in which the tenor alone sings the so-called
‘sqware note’ Leroy Kyrie for Lady Mass on Sundays which
is then employed as the cantus firmus of Taverner’s polyphonic
setting. This is the version sung by The Sixteen and Christ
Church, and by St Mary’s Choir on the new CD, and it seems to
me the best way to perform the work.
I never want to be without The Sixteen’s more measured performance
– only eight seconds longer, but with much less punch than the
new version – or the Tallis Scholars’ even more measured approach,
but I was won over by the sheer excitement of Duncan Ferguson’s
interpretation. Incidentally, when I accused the Christ Church
choristers on Nimbus of being slower than The Tallis Scholars,
I was nodding, like Palinurus, at the helm, having forgotten
that the Scholars sing only the shorter version of this work.
What about those fast tempi; don’t they mean that Ferguson’s
performers almost come off the rails? In fact, no: they cope
admirably, with no problems of intonation or phrasing, even
in the more florid sections of the Corona spinea Mass.
They actually succeed in making the Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen
and their more direct rivals at Christ Church Cathedral sound
a little anaemic by comparison in the Mass and in the shorter
pieces – not that I should ever wish to be without any of their
performances, but I have a feeling that the new Delphian CD
may well become my first choice for listening to Taverner. With
good recording and very helpful notes, I’m sorry only that John
Quinn has beaten me to the mark in making this Recording
of the Month.
see also review by John