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Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Spem in Alium (1573) [12.19]
Salve intemerata motet (<1520) [23.09]
Missa Salve intemerata (1537) [27.49]
With all our heart [3.11]
Discomfort them, O Lord [Absterge Domine] [6.36]
I call and cry to thee, O Lord [4.12]
Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly
rec. in 4.0 48/24 Sound, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, UK, 23 January 2005
Notes in English and Deutsch. Latin texts with English translations. Photos of performers.
NAXOS 5.110111 [77.16]

also CD 8.557770 review

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Comparison recordings of Spem in Alium:
Richard Westenberg, Musica Sacra Chorus, BMG/RCA Dolby Surround 09026-60970-2
Peter Phillips, The Tallis Scholars. Gimell 454 906-2

My late room-mate used to enjoy teasing me about directional recordings. When I would excitedly rush home from the shop with a new recording of a work in stereo where I had heretofore only had one in monophonic sound, he would solemnly ask, "....but did he write it in stereo?" A pity he is not here to hear me triumphantly proclaim, yes, Tallis did indeed write this work in quadraphonic sound. These forty very capable musicians make up eight choirs of five voices each arranged in pairs in the pattern of a cross, and indeed do sing from the four speakers in the corners of your listening room.

The genesis of the work is interesting. In 1567 Alessandro Striggio came to London from Mantua with a forty voice motet of his own. An English nobleman who heard the concert asked whether or not an Englishman could "set so good a song." Tallis took up the challenge; apparently the first performance of the work was "in the round" as heard on this recording. Three years after his death, Tallisís anthem Absterge Domine was sung to the words Discomfort them, O Lord as a prayer for the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Make no mistake, this is a beautiful recording, but not a perfect one, for at times during the louder moments of Spem in alium and Salve intemerata the hall acoustic tends to ring disagreeably. The quieter sections of these and other works on this disk are most effective. It could be a question of microphone placement; I donít detect that the acoustic has been electronically altered.

A contemporary music critic referred to this type of church music as "A pleasant experience much drawn out." But nobody went to sleep during a Tallis concert for just as you get used to the wash of exquisite consonance, he will throw you a dissonant passing tone and wake you up. His putative pupil William Byrd could do this as well, with equal skill, no mean trick in modal harmony.

On any recording of the music of Tallis, the inevitable question must be answered: No, this disk does not contain the piece upon which Vaughan Williams based his Tallis Fantasia. I know of no recording of that work, and I had to find the score and make myself a MIDI file in order to hear it played on my computer.

Sound in the DVD-Audio tracks is excellent except for the slight ringing tendency on the louder passages. The dts tracks preserve most of the precise directionality and much of the smoothness of the DVD-Audio tracks, while the Dolby tracks tend to a little more mushy an acoustic and have a higher distortion level, about like a CD would be. I have not had the opportunity to hear an SACD release of this recording.

Musica Sacra is a New York group of considerable reputation; they rush through Spem in alium in under eight minutes. They avoid acoustical overload in the cathedral of St. John the Divine by singing rather quietly and with supporting lines dropping in volume behind solo lines. Their recording released in Dolby Surround Sound does provide sound sources throughout the listening space, although not with the accuracy of the discrete 4.0 sound, however beautifully they sing and however smooth and ambient the recording. Matrix quad (such as AC-3, that is Dolby Surround) is like sex in that it only works if you donít try to figure it out. Even the recording by The Tallis Scholars, who complete the work in just under ten minutes and who sing with drama as well as sweetness, expands satisfactorily in surround sound processing to fill the listening space. Both these recordings avoid the ringing overload heard on the Summerly recording. Heard under optimum circumstances, these three recordings are different but are dead equals in terms of overall beauty and commitment.

Paul Shoemaker


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