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Thomas TALLIS (c.1505–1585)
Missa Puer natus est nobis and other sacred music
Salvator mundi, Domine [4:16]
Plainsong - Puer natus est nobis [4:22]
Missa Puer natus est nobis [24:57]
Quod chorus vatum [4:26]
Benedictus (Blessed be the Lord God of Israel) [6:01]
Magnificat a 4 [10:33]
Audivi vocem de cælo [3:44]
Videte miraculum [9:16]
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
rec. 20-22 February 2013, Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, UK. DDD
Latin texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA68026 [67:35]

I had thought this was the second volume in the Tallis Edition which Andrew Carwood and The Cardinall’s Musick are making for Hyperion but, in fact, it’s the third. My misunderstanding arose because the first volume was released as long ago as 2005, when it was warmly received by Em Marshall-luck (review). After a long gap, during which they completed their recordings of Byrd’s music, the group resumed Tallis business with a release that was greeted by Brian Wilson in its download format last year (review). I’ve not heard either of those discs but on the evidence of this latest volume that’s an omission that I must hasten to rectify.

The previous volume contained a setting of the Mass – the Missa Salve intermerata – and there’s one here too. It’s the incomplete Christmas Mass, Missa Puer natus est nobis. Its incompleteness lies in the fact that only a fragment of the Credo, not included here, has survived. In a splendid booklet note Andrew Carwood discusses the background to the work which I will summarise – accurately, I hope, as follows. The fact that the chant on which it is based – and which we hear in full before the Mass – is the chant for a text from the Proper of the Mass rather than a chant for a text from the Divine Office, which is more usual, suggests a firm liturgical connection: Puer natus est nobis is the Introit for the third Mass of Christmas day and so this Mass was probably written with the specific intention that it should be performed on Christmas Day and almost certainly during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-1558). Carwood also notes that the seven-part writing omits trebles – the scoring is AATTBarBB – and this may be connected with the fact that the chapel choir of King Philip I of Spain, Mary’s husband, does not seem to have used treble voices. All of which leads some scholars plausibly to suppose that the Mass was written for Christmas 1554, at the end of the year in which Mary and Philip were married.

Even without its Credo the Mass is on a substantial scale and the music is rich in texture and invention. The absence of treble voices and the seven-part writing gives the setting hues of russet or gold, I think. It was interesting to compare this performance with the version by Stile Antico, with which I was greatly taken when it first appeared in 2010 (review). To suit their line-up Stile Antico perform the Mass with sopranos on the top and they sing the music in a higher key. This gives Tallis’s music an altogether brighter hue and while my admiration for their performance remains undimmed I’m equally impressed by the account from The Cardinall’s Musick.

Carwood describes the music as ‘sonorous and rich’, a verdict with which one can only agree. His ensemble gives a wonderful performance of the Gloria. The textures are full yet there’s no loss of clarity and Carwood’s four basses provide a satisfyingly full but never heavy foundation. Andrew Carwood uses two voices to a part in all this music. As the end of the movement draws closer the music becomes exciting as Tallis’s use of the various parts builds impetus. The Sanctus is majestic and here there’s particular fervour in both the music and the singing; Carwood and his team impart fine urgency to the closing ‘Hosanna in excelsis’. The Benedictus is serene – at least until the lively ‘Hosanna’ – and the Agnus Dei is rapt; here one has a sense of order and inevitability as one listens. This Mass contains wonderful music which is expertly performed here.

One of my favourite Tallis pieces closes the disc: Videte miraculum which is a Responsory for the First Vespers of the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas). This glorious work is also included on Stile Antico’s programme and it’s fascinating to compare the two performances, which adopt very different approaches. Carwood’s performance, which takes some two minutes less that Stile Antico’s, is robust and urgent: I infer that he wants to convey joy and excitement. Stile Antico, who sing the music at the same pitch, take the music much more slowly and their approach is contemplative. Their very beautiful performance better conveys a sense of wonder, I believe. My personal preference is for the Stile Antico approach and performance but this is not to deny for one second the validity of Andrew Carwood’s response to the text and music and his equally expert singers deliver a splendid performance. I’m just glad to have both versions in my collection.

There’s also a robust approach evident in the opening piece in Carwood’s programme. The performance of the hymn Salvator mundi, Domine is vigorous and strongly projected by the singers. I enjoyed that performance very much as I did that of Benedictus which, despite its Latin title, is the only work in this programme that sets a text in English. Composed for TTBarB, the scoring gives the music a ‘warm sonority’, as Andrew Carwood says. The piece features very direct word setting in accordance with the expectations placed on composers by Archbishop Cranmer.

Every piece on this programme is very satisfying and the performances are first rate, as one has come to expect from this group. The programme was recorded in the Fitzalan Chapel of Arundel Castle, for centuries the seat of England’s premier lay Catholic, the Duke of Norfolk. This seems to have become a venue of choice for the recording of programmes of this kind in recent years. I’ve enjoyed several recordings which were made there and this is another successful example, sympathetically undertaken by producer Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and engineers Martin Haskell and Iestyn Rees.

If other volumes in this series maintain this level of accomplishment then I suspect Andrew Carwood’s Tallis series will be as notable as his earlier Byrd edition. I shall follow it with great interest.

John Quinn

Previous review: Brian Wilson (March 2014 Recording of the Month)