Medieval Chant / Tallis Lamentations
Tenebrae Consort/Nigel Short
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 24-25 October 2013
For track-listing, see below
SIGNUM BENE ARTE SIGCD901 [65.23]
The first thing to say about this disc is that it is largely of plainchant for the most solemn of times in the church's year. In this case it spans not only Lent but also Holy week. To be even more precise it focuses on Maundy Thursday in which the Last Supper is commemorated and also Jesus' betrayal and arrest. There is nothing carefree here but the whole sequence, which can easily be appreciated in one straight playing, is a spiritual and, yes, religious experience.
Tenebrae is not unused to discs like this, perhaps you have come across their Russian Treasures disc (Signum SIGCD900 review review) or the dark and wondrous Tenebrae Responsorial of Victoria (Signum SIGCD344 review) and their Gesualdo disc (DG Archiv 479 0841 review) but this newcomer really hits the mark. It left me wanting to witness one of their concerts in some darkened and impressive abbey.
The interesting point is that the Tallis Lamentations and the short In Manus Tuas setting by John Sheppard emerge like a draught of warm water out of the cold and mystery of the plainchant to which they are deeply wedded. Although I have about five other recordings of the Tallis this one moved me as much as any I know; in fact, in some ways more so. The quite slow pacing, the balance, the tempi, the understanding of significant climactic moments, the clarity audible in the more complex areas of counterpoint - all these are achieved almost ideally. For that performance alone the disc is well worth the purchase price.
After the Pange lingua hymn we attend Compline, which consists of a sequence of Antiphons (prayers), readings and versicles and most importantly, psalms using the Sarum Rite. This is for Passiontide and concerns how God saves those who are oppressed and who seek forgiveness of sins in preparation for the day of personal judgement. For many, attending a late evening Compline service or indeed singing one, as I often have, it is a highlight of the Lenten period. You can, though, sit quietly at home and soak it in, perhaps lighting a candle or two. The Lamentations are divided by the In Monte Oliveti plainchant and followed by the words which have come to be associated with Christ's passion in the Garden of Gethsemane "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death". We end with the Maundy Thursday Litany - Kyrie eleison and 'Christ become obedient unto death".
This is plainchant performed by 'singers' not by monks. If you prefer the style and sound of, say the monks of Solesmes, then these voices will sound very 'anglicised'. Everything is done 'proper'. The recording, made in an oft-used London church, clearly not the one used for the cover photo, by the way, is rich and atmospheric but also distinct and clear.
Tenebrae, whose twenty other recordings are listed within, consist of six male voices - there are seven faces on the booklet cover - for this recording. This includes their Artistic Director Nigel Short and four other names are offered as having contributed.
I have been fortunate enough to take in this recording over the Lenten period but by the time you read this it will probably be Whitsun. Even so, don't just regard this as a disc for a certain (penitential) season; this is beautiful and captivating music, superbly sung and it can be uplifting at any time of the year.
All texts are provided and excellently translated, with biographical notes and photos. Add to this an extended and helpful essay by Nigel Short plus notes on all of the music and its background.
Pange Lingua gloriosa [3:12]
Compline for Passiontide [21:14]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585) Lamentations of Jeremiah Part 1 [8:27]
Respond: In monte oliveti [2:19]
Tallis Lamentations Part II [13:35]
Respond: Tristis est anima mea [2:54]
John SHEPPARD (c.1515-1558) Respond for Compline in Passiontide: In manus tuas I [3:43]
Litany after Lauds for Maundy Thursday [3:45]
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