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 [10:22]
God grant with grace (No 8 of 9 Psalm Tunes) [4:59]
O Lord, open thou our lips (Part 1 of Preces and Responses II) [1:07]
Wherewithal shall a young man [2:21]
O do well unto thy servant [2:34]
My soul cleaveth to the dust [3:14]
Short Service 'Dorian'
Evening Canticle 1: Magnificat, My soul doth magnify the Lord [3:16]
Evening Canticle 2: Nunc dimittis, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace [1:59]
The Lord be with you (Part 2 of 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
Robert Rice (baritone)
Robert Evans (bass)
rec. 9-11 November 2015, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suberb, London.
HYPERION CDA68156 [76:59]

The Cardinall’s Musick has recorded prolifically and highly successfully for Hyperion, and this is the grand finale of their survey of the music of Thomas Tallis. Andrew Carwood’s well written and scholarly booklet notes take us deep into the speculative world around the origins of the incredible 40-part Spem in alium which here grows, all innocence, out of the simplicity of Purge me, O Lord, and as ever manages to overwhelm us within its first minutes.

This contrast of disarming ecclesiastical directness and incomparable excess is a strong feature of the programming for this release, but the surrounding works are not to be underestimated, even in the shadow of such a towering masterpiece. Tallis often has some scrunchy and surprising dissonances up his sleeve, and even the Psalm tune God grant with grace has a delightful recurring twist to add intrigue to an otherwise simple chorale. These are pieces for practical church use, but almost always with inspired touches which raise the level beyond the mundane – especially in performances as refined as these. Highlights include the imitative polyphony of O sacrum convivium and the expressively melodic Verily, verily I say unto you.

The programme concludes with a reprise of Spem in alium in the form of its earliest surviving manuscript version, a setting of an anonymous English rhymed text, Sing and glorify. Andrew Carwood’s experience is that this “becomes a more celebratory piece [that] contrasts with the original Latin which is more penitential in nature.” I hadn’t come across this version before and am pleased to report it is as glorious as you might expect, even though you won’t be able to comprehend many if any words from these rich textures, even in English.

This performance and recording of Spem in alium is one that can be recommended as a top-notch version amongst the many now available. The Cardinall’s Musick is never afraid to use a judicious amount of vibrato on their vocal tone, and this is also the case in their much reinforced ensemble here. The blend of voices from top to bottom is very good, with those high lines floating over the texture of the rest with great beauty. Ensemble is good, with sibilant accents all neatly co-ordinated. The moments with thinner textures are delivered with just the right amount of quiet reflectiveness, allowing the effect of the massed voices to enter with striking impact. Intonation is superb throughout, and the recording allows for just enough antiphonal call-and-answer without creating effects that drag your brain from one side of your head to the other. Carwood relishes that dissonant moment towards the end in both Sing and glorify and this version, and if you can hear – in context of course – the passage at 9:28 and not feel your limbs or turn to jelly then you have a Teflon soul indeed.

There are of course numerous recordings of Tallis’s Spem in alium around. More expansive by about 2 minutes, Jeremy Summerly with the Oxford Camerata on Naxos (review) has plenty of refinement and a remarkable grand sound, but fewer dramatic peaks than The Cardinall’s Musick. King’s College Choir has its classic Decca recording with Sir David Willcocks which still exerts something of a magical spell, even with its rather monumental tread, dodgy sibilance, wobbly vibrato and some stereo effects that sound rather forced these days. The same choir with Stephen Cleobury on Decca Argo is preferable, but still a bit ‘tricky’, topped as it is with silvery boy’s voices. The Tallis Scholars on Gimell are excellent (review), their depth in the lower voices and purity of line in the often stratospheric heights creating all of the overwhelming impression you want from this work. I could go on, but just to finish there is the Chapelle du Roi with Alistair Dixon on Brilliant Classics (review) which is very respectable indeed, but lacks intimacy in the thinner textures.

All texts and translations are printed in the booklet, and even with a slightly iffy photo collage on the inner tray the presentation is well up to Hyperion’s usual high standards. Deciding on an absolute ‘best’ in such a work is a tough challenge, but I can guarantee that if you turn up the volume on this Spem in alium and are prepared to expose your inner monk to this performance then this will be a disc with which you will not want to part.

Dominy Clements
Previous review: John Quinn

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