Christopher TYE (c.1505-before 15 March 1573)
Quaesumus omnipotens et misericors Deus [6:25]
Missa Euge bone 6vv [22:04]
Give almes of thy goods 4vv [1:47]
Christ rising [3:40]
Peccavimus cum patribus nostris 7vv [11:39]
Western Wynde Mass 4vv [24:39]
Nunc dimittis 4vv [3:33]
The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell
rec. All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, 20-22 June 2011. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67928 [73:49]
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 repertoire.
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

Exhilarating music that receives excellent advocacy from choir, conductor and label.