This new recording makes the strongest possible case for the music of Christopher
Tye. A contemporary of Tallis, Tye was highly regarded during
his lifetime, and, though a supporter of the Protestant Reform
movement, he successfully straddled the shifting Roman Catholic/Anglican
monarchies. While focusing mainly on Latin-texted music, including
Tye’s best-known masses and two large motets, we also hear three
simpler, yet no less beautiful, English motets. They are interspersed
between and after the more complex works in Latin - an example
of thoughtful programming that enables the listener more fully
to grasp Tye’s differing compositional techniques.
Hyperion’s production values are, as always, first-class. The
liner-notes, by conductor Jeremy Summerly, are exactly what
they should be: scholarly - though not overly so, informative,
interesting and succinct. Each work is put into context and
special compositional features - such as Tye’s love of the “interrupted
subdominant cadence” - are clearly explained. Listening after
reading the notes will surely give any listener a greater appreciation
of Tye’s compositional prowess.
The Choir of Westminster Abbey is in excellent form, with a
particularly bold sound from the treble section. The Men and
Boys Choir sound is not my favorite, despite its claim to a
more truthful historical authenticity. I was enthralled, however,
by the trebles’ sound in this recording. O’Donnell encourages
a greater mix of chest and head voice, resulting in a tone that
is warm, rich, yet refulgent. On a few occasions the trebles
threatened to overwhelm the other choral parts, though I would
gladly listen to singing of such fervour over the perfectly
balanced, yet lifeless, performances sometimes heard in this
The opening performance, Quaesumus omnipotens et misericors
Deus, displays the many hallmarks that are heard throughout
this CD. Tye’s love of imitative writing is readily apparent,
as is his desire to express the text. The music is a kaleidoscope
of ever-changing voicing and textures. O’Donnell ensures that
all of it is executed with clarity and precision. Moreover,
he is sensitive to how the music expresses the textual sentiment.
For example, the supplications that close Quaesumus
- a Latin text adapted from a prayer by King Henry VII - become
increasingly impassioned, climaxing in the final bars as the
choir sings that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.
Amen.” The motet’s text achieves its culmination in this passage,
and this is superbly realized in O’Donnell’s performance.
The Missa Euge bone offers many similar moments. In
the Gloria, there is a moment, just before it ends,
where the polyphony stops and Tye sets the name “Jesus Christe”
in block chords. The choir sings these chords with breathtaking
beauty. Likewise at the opening of the Sanctus, where
six slow-moving chords are surely meant to convey a sense of
awe and wonder, fully realized here. The Agnus Dei has an unusual
structure, with four petitions instead of the normal three.
Each petition is scored and set differently, making the pleas
for mercy and peace increasingly ardent. It is brilliant writing
- small wonder that scholars believe this was the work Tye submitted
for his Doctorate from Cambridge - passionately sung.
Hearing Tye’s setting of Give alms of thy goods, after
the Mass is a stark contrast, but one which readily reveals
his ability to profound music with a simpler technique. The
rousing performance of Christ rising, is followed by
Peccavimus cum patribus nostris, with a particularly
impressive account of its climax at “Pour into our hearts thy
most holy love.” O’Donnell’s Missa Western Wynde is
also masterly, as is his reading of Nunc dimittis (sung
in English) that serves as a peaceful benediction to this programme.
There is little competition for the main works on this album.
A recording of the Missa Euge bone and Peccavimus
motet by Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata features consistently
slower tempos in a less vocally accommodating acoustic. This
new one makes Summerly’s seem somewhat cautious and emotionally
reticent. The only other recording of the Missa Western
Wynde is by The Tallis Scholars, who are, as always, beautiful.
I admire both, and can only explain the difference by saying
that The Tallis Scholars’ seem “concert”-oriented, whereas the
Westminster Abbey version appears truly connected to a liturgical
tradition, and therefore touches me more deeply. This is exhilarating
music that receives excellent advocacy from choir, conductor,
and label alike.
David A. McConnell
see review by Brian