Monday, 5 October 2015

A spectacularly fine recording of John Taverner’s Missa Corona spinea on a new release from Gimell Records

Over four decades the Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips have done more than any other group to establish sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music. This has been achieved through their award-winning recordings for Gimell Records as well as performances in churches, cathedrals and venues all over the world including the Royal Albert Hall; the Sistine Chapel; the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, New York; the Philharmonic Hall Berlin; Saint Mark's Venice; Seoul Arts Centre Korea; Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London; Concertgebouw Amsterdam; Wigmore Hall; Beijing Concert Hall; Megaron, Athens and the Opera House, Sydney.

Amongst their wealth of recordings the Tallis Scolars have already recorded works by John Taverner (c.1490-1545) including his Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas and Magnificats and Western Wind Masses .

On the 30th October 2015, Gimell will be releasing a recording of Taverner’s Missa Corona spinea together with two Responds Dum transisset Sabbatum made in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford the venue for so many fine Gimell productions.

Taverner’s Festal Mass setting Missa Corona spinea (Crown of Thorns) is based on an unidentified plainchant and is thought to have been composed for the discontinued Feast of the Holy Crown of Thorns, a feast of some importance in the 16th century. The disposition of the six voices is unusual in that, instead of the usual treble, mean, two altos, tenor and bass, Taverner changes an alto for an additional bass.

After a tenor sings the plainchant Gloria in excelsis Deo the female voices enter creating a glorious sound in the fine acoustic of Merton College Chapel. Soon the rest of the choir join, bringing a fine layering of textures with Peter Phillips’ pacing spot on, creating a natural flow. Qui tollis brings some fine textures especially from the lower voices over which the trebles rise. It is lovely the way the choir allows the music to flourish so naturally as it rises, gaining in tempo and intensity as the conclusion is reached.

Credo in unum Deo is announced by a tenor before the choir joins with the upper voices soaring over the male voices, weaving a terrific sound. Certainly Taverner’s choice of an extra bass is telling here.  Et incarnatus est takes a slower, flowing pace allowing the various lines of the music to emerge beautifully, the ear following every line, later rising and subtly speeding to create a feeling of uplifting ecstasy.

The choir open Sanctus and Hosanna I at a steady pace, the female voices weaving around a static male line, an inspired idea from Taverner. They soon generate a fine flow as all parts of the choir weave the mellifluous choral sound.  Taverner brings so many different ideas to this section of the Mass, finding so many different blends of voices. Male voices bring a rich opening Benedictus to which the treble adds a fine contrast. There is some fine blending of voices with Taverner packing so much into this short section. There is a finely paced Qui venit bringing such feeling, a glorious part, quite mesmeric. Hosanna II rises beautifully out of the Qui venit, the music blossoming out in all its glory with lovely rising sequences.

Agnus Dei I is taken at a lovely slowly unfolding pace, Phillips’ careful blending of vocal lines is very fine. Agnus Dei II follows the same pace but develops through some wonderful vocal textures bringing a slightly gentler feel, before rising later with some fine blends of individual male voices against the mean and treble voices. Agnus Dei III really flourishes, rising up spiritually, Phillips holding the steady pace and allowing the voices to rise beautifully.

Dona nobis pacem brings faster flowing, intricately woven music, this choir revelling in the challenge of Taverner’s fast and fluid lines.

This is a very fine performance indeed with this choir achieving many fine varied textures and sonorities as well as carefully chosen tempi that bring much variety to this setting.

Dum transisset Sabbatum is the Respond to the third lesson at Matins on Easter Sunday. It was also used on other occasions during Easter week and on subsequent Sundays up until Ascension.

Here we have Taverner’s two settings beginning with Dum transisset Sabbatum II. A tenor opens on the words Dum transisset (When the Sabbath was over) before the choir gently enter with such a well-balanced blend of voices, perfectly paced. They weave around each other creating the most wonderful textures before arriving at a very fine Alleluia.

In the better known Dum transisset Sabbatum I the choir rises beautifully after the tenor’s initial plainchant with a wonderfully gentle flow, a slow outpouring of feeling before increasing in passion. There is a further plainchant statement before the choir leads on and we arrive at a glowing Alleluia that really takes off.

Those who know and admire this wonderful choir will need no encouragement to acquire this new disc. Those who don’t should give themselves the pleasure of hearing some of the finest singing they are likely to hear. 

The recording from the Tallis Scholars’ regular producer, Steve C. Smith is spectacularly fine with great care given to the silences between tracks. There are full Latin texts with English translations and excellent notes from Peter Phillips. This is a spectacularly fine new release.

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