Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
Perhaps after nearly 25 years of recordings (and an amazing 30 years since the originators of this group gave their first concert at the Church of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford), we’ve come to take the Tallis Scholars and their special, uniquely identifiable ensemble sound and veracious commitment to renaissance polyphony for granted. But this release–an irresistible two-discs-for-the-price-of-one compilation–reminds us anew just how blessed we are to have enjoyed the benefits of Peter Phillips and his pioneering efforts (and they truly were pioneering back in 1973) in not only rediscovering and restoring but enlivening music from ancient centuries, and showing it to be every bit as exciting and meaningful today as it certainly was in its own time. The fact is, the Tallis Scholars–a group of 10-plus hand-picked singers drawn from Britain’s rich pool of highly trained specialists–since its inception has been a leader in the early-music movement and has strongly influenced virtually every important renaissance vocal ensemble to emerge during the last couple of decades.
This ideally-chosen collection taken from the Tallis Scholars’ catalog shows a representative range of repertoire and styles–from England, Spain, France, and Italy–and reflects the group’s various ensemble configurations. You notice that changes in quality/color of the ensemble sound is more dictated by the character of the composition than by any differences in the group’s personnel from year to year or piece to piece. In fact, these selections show how remarkably consistent the group’s sound has remained, effectively adjusting to the differences in texture, register relationships and voicing, and aspects of line–from more syllabic to melismatic, and from densely textured Flemish works to more open-spaced English pieces, including the remarkable “high-treble” scoring of Sheppard and Cornysh.
It would be foolish to try to list highlights: everything here is a highlight. Yet it is important to give special mention to such masterful performances as the amazing Allegri Miserere, from the ensemble’s first recording (Alison Stamp’s treble solo has never been surpassed), Palestrina’s Sicut lilium, three gorgeous Lassus pieces, Sheppard’s Media vita, the Gloria from Brumel’s Missa Et ecce terrae motus, the gentle and lovely song Ah, Robin by William Cornysh the Younger, and the stunningly brilliant Salve regina by his father. The set concludes with a performance of Byrd’s five-part Mass that’s as close to definitive as we can expect. In fact, that’s the case with everything you hear on these CDs. No matter how experienced you are as a listener (or performer), you can’t help but marvel at the exceptional standard of vocalism, musicianship, ensemble unity, and collective understanding of style and the ability to convey it in a coherent, aurally and emotionally engaging manner. Taken all together, this set represents the highest achievement in modern performance of renaissance vocal music–not to mention the demonstration-quality sound–and presents it in all of its vibrant, joyful, meditative, sensuous, and compelling glory. Full texts and translations are included in a very classy package. If I had to choose just one recording to demonstrate the radiance, richness, and sheer beauty of renaissance vocal music, this would be it. [8/16/2003]
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Album Title: THE ESSENTIAL TALLIS SCHOLARS
Works by Allegri, Victoria, Palestrina, Josquin, Isaac, Lassus, Brumel, Sheppard, Tallis, White, Cornysh, Byrd, others -