Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
In ieiunio et fletu [4:56]
Blessed are those that be undefiled [4:32]
Purge me, O Lord [2:14]
Spem in alium [10:21]
God grant with grace - No. 8 of 9 Psalm Tunes [4:59]
O Lord, open thou our lips - Preces and Responses II [1:07]
Wherewithal shall a young man [2:21]
O do well unto they servant [2:34]
My soul cleaveth to the dust
Magnificat - Short Service ‘Dorian’ [3:16]
Nunc dimittis - Short Service ‘Dorian’ [1:59]
The Lord be with you - Preces and Responses II [5:05]
O sacrum convivium [3:49]
Remember not, O Lord God [3:36]
Hear the voice and prayer [3:17]
Verily, verily I say unto you [2:20]
O Lord, in thee is all my trust [[3:43]
Hodie nobis caelorum rex [3:41]
Sing and glorify [9:45]
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
rec. 9 -11 November 2015, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Texts and English translations included HYPERION CDA68156 [76:59]
It is said that all good things must come to an end and with this seventh volume Andrew Carwood completes his survey of the sacred music of Thomas Tallis. I’ve followed the series with great interest and enjoyment and I’m happy – if unsurprised – to report that this final instalment matches in every respect the excellence of its predecessors.
For this set of recordings the project has forsaken the venue which hosted all previous sessions, namely the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle. That’s an ideal place in which to record Tudor polyphony but this time a larger venue and acoustic was required because the centrepiece of Andrew Carwood’s programme is the piece which is probably Tallis’s greatest achievement: Spem in alium. Moreover, having gone to the trouble of organising a large number of guest singers to take part in Spem Carwood decided to include also the contrafactum version, Sing and glorify. Spem is in every sense a prodigious achievement but as Mr Carwood reminds us in his excellent notes, we have no real idea how Tallis went about the composition. We’re so used to hearing the piece nowadays that we probably never pause to consider such mundane questions as are posed in the notes: was there a full score; how did he remember and correct what he had written? The sheer physical and organisational challenge of setting down a piece of music in forty parts in those days is as difficult for us to take on board as is the intellectual and technical challenge of conceiving the piece in the first place. It’s a sign of Tallis’s achievement that we don’t consider these things; the music seems inevitable. Carwood and his singers give a superb performance that rises in open-throated intensity while the engineers achieve a commendable degree of clarity, at the same time conveying the overall scale of the sound. I well remember the first time I heard this piece sung live, I was in Beverley Minster and Sir David Willcocks and the Bach Choir were the performers. Before too long the whole of that glorious building seemed to be alive with sound and that is the impression that’s created here.
On that occasion Spem came as the last piece in the concert and met with such an audience response that Sir David repeated the piece. Andrew Carwood doesn’t quite do that but instead he reprises the music by closing the disc with Sing and glorify. This contrafactum was fashioned by an anonymous hand in 1610 to be sung at the investiture as Prince of Wales of Prince Henry, eldest son of King James I. Poignantly, the piece was put to the same use just two years later when, following Henry’s premature death, his younger brother, the future King Charles I, was invested as Prince of Wales. As Andrew Carwood remarks, the new words fit quite well to the music. This indicates that whoever was responsible for the contrafactum knew what he was about. It’s not often we get a chance to hear Sing and glorify – I’ve only once experienced it live (review) – so its inclusion here is welcome and it’s interesting to hear Tallis’s music given a somewhat more celebratory air.
The previous two volumes have included the portions of Tallis’s ‘Short Service’ that concern Matins and Communion. Here the project-within-a-project is completed with the Evensong settings from the ‘Short Service’. Three settings of verses from Psalm 119 are also included so that tracks 6 to 12 effectively constitute the music for a service of Evensong. That’s a good way of presenting the music. The settings are all concise and direct. I find the music plain-spoken by comparison with Tallis’s Latin music but he was simply producing what was required by the Church of England.
Other examples of his English language music include Remember not, O Lord God. Carwood speculates that this is one of the composer’s early attempts at a setting in his native tongue, describing the result as “stark and archaic sounding”. I’m sure he’s right: the piece doesn’t seem to flow seamlessly though it must be said that the text, verses from Psalm 78, don’t appear to lend themselves too easily to a musical setting. Interestingly, this piece ends not with an ‘Amen’ but with the words ‘So be it’. Significantly more successful is Verily, verily I say unto you. This strikes me as a much more satisfactory blend of music and words and one senses that Tallis is now more at ease setting English words.
The programme also includes some fine instances of Latin settings. In ieiunio et fletu is a gravely poised penitential piece. O sacrum convivium may well have begun life as an instrumental piece; it’s not difficult to envisage the music played by a consort of viols.
So, there we have it; the sacred music of Thomas Tallis surveyed in seven exemplary CDs. This final volume maintains to the last the exceptionally high standards of the series. That applies to the performances, the recorded sound and the documentation. I hope it goes without saying that the remark applies particularly to the calibre of the music. This is the end of a highly distinguished contribution to the discography of this great Tudor master. Following the series has been an enriching experience.