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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy music, 6 Jan. 2006
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Thomas Tallis: Sacred Choral Works, Spem in alium (Audio CD)
--Thomas Tallis-
Thomas Tallis, born in 1505, was one of the outstanding liturgical composers of his day, being the acknowledged master of the composers of England from the time of Queen Mary's reign forward. He was a composer and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, and worked closely with many other composers, most particularly William Byrd. He was an organist in addition to composer. He died in 1585, having navigated his way through the tumultuous catholic/protestant difficulties of the church which provided his livelihood and creative outlet.
--Spem in alium--
This piece, Spem in alium numquam habui (I have no faith in any other [than God]), is Tallis' most famous piece. It is a 40-part motet, set up for eight five-part choirs. It is a masterpiece. Tallis blended the chordal with the polyphonic here, to great effect. The number of voices makes for interesting effects, particularly when done in cathedral settings. Several stories have appeared about why this work was composed, but in the end, it remains unknown.
--Other music--
Other pieces here include selections from 'The Lamentations of Jeremiah' (Holy Week readings), 'Jesu salvator saeculi', 'Gaude gloriosa Dei Mater', and several other shorter pieces. Many use the well-established pattern of alternating polyphony with plainchant from verse to verse. The 'Gaude gloriosa' uses a six-part choir and high, soaring treble voices - this is very typically English of the period.
--The Sixteen, Harry Christophers--
Alas, the liner notes do not tell much about the choir or choirmaster, Harry Christophers. It does include photographs. The Sixteen have been together since its formation in 1977 by Christophers, educated at Canterbury Cathedral Choir School and Magdalen College, Oxford. They are fast approaching 100 recordings as a group, of which this is a good example.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cleric and the Pillar, 10 July 2012
This review is from: Thomas Tallis: Sacred Choral Works, Spem in alium (Audio CD)
"Cato, the Devil comes to us in many guises," Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice commented as the sun arose at Telanissos in Syria, "not least as the viper of Karajanism."

"Yes, your Holiness - undoubtedly so."

"But what does that mean, my trusty man-servant? A disc does not need to feature Uncle Herbert for it to reek of the contagion. Murkiness and mushiness are sufficient in themselves. But enough of that. What of my latest project?"

"Your Holiness, as you can see I have sourced a fifty metre Roman pillar from Baalbek. I have installed a rope-and-pulley system which will serve as a lift. On top of the column you will find all the moderns cons."

A glazed look came over the pinched face of the cleric.

"Well done Cato. Yes, yes, yes: this is a dream come true! It is time for yours truly, Father Melchizedek OP, the `umble postulant of Gustav Cardinal Leonhardt, to take to the skies as the Period Practice Stylite! True, I am many a mile from my hometown of Amsterdam. Here, I will isolate myself from the contaminants of the world and the Berlin Philharmonic as I contemplate the glories of Tallis, Victoria and Josquin under the stars! Who knows: I might spice things up with some Hasse!"

"Your Holiness, could one liken this venture to `Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung' from Ein Heldenleben?"

Father Melchizedek shuddered in agony.

"Mention not that `Heldenwhine and Heldenwhoop' in my presence!"

Once he had regained his poise, the cleric stared at his trusty manservant.

"Cato, I am becoming bored with your assassination attempts. Yes, that is your brief. I have purchased a Herbie soup-o-metre of my own. Consequently there will be no more Bach: Mass in B minor. I have already scanned the cache of CDs which will be my boon companions in the years ahead and it came up with a clean bill-of-health. On that note, it is time to reach for the skies!"

With great dignity, Father Melchizedek ascended to the top of the pillar. As he did so, Cato looked on with the slightest of smiles. After settling into his new home, the cleric turned his mind to music.

"This is the commencement of a journey," he said to himself. "Who knows where it will take me in the realm of the spirit? It is time, therefore, for a random selection!"

He reached into the cache that had been packed by Cato. Much to his disgust, he pulled out a disc of Harry Christophers and the Sixteen performing Tallis on Chandos. Uttering many an imprecation, the cleric reached for another disc, only to fish out a second copy. In alarm, Father Melchizedek zipped open the entire cache: hundreds of copies tumbled out onto the landing.

Now most listeners would say this is a marvellous disc. However adaptable he was in "allegiances on the ground", Tallis was a genius and Spem in Alium is his calling-card on eternity - little else needs to be said. Much like Ajax's prayer, "Light, light, if only to die in," `Te Lucis Ante Terminum' beseeches illumination at the end of the day. Youth notwithstanding, any listener is guaranteed to resemble Rembrandt's Jeremiah, awash with useless treasure, as he contemplates the destruction of Jerusalem - such be the power of Tallis' Lamentations. O Nata Lux would bestill a cyclone. This is polyphony as Creation. Moreover, such music is an invitation to evaluate Homo Sapiens - however temporarily - as being something more than mere `blood and bone'. The Sixteen sing with exquisite tonal beauty and allure: one is left bedazzled, speechless and spiritualized. The recording is suitably spacious but not too washy - Spem in Alium is slightly ill-served in that respect.

But all of this was mere verbiage to the High Priest of Period Practice.

"That cunning little fiend has outdone himself this time!" he hissed to himself. "Anything more than `One Voice per Part' is Karajanism enthroned! And doesn't he realise that the choirs of yesteryear were far more professional than anything that could be mustered nowadays, not least The Huddersfield Sixteen or whatever they care to call themselves!"

The cleric strode over to the edge of the landing and looked down. Much to his dismay, the rope-and-pulley system lay on the ground and his trusty manservant was speeding away in the jeep.

"Cato !!! Cato !!!!!"
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Thomas Tallis: Sacred Choral Works, Spem in alium
Thomas Tallis: Sacred Choral Works, Spem in alium by The Sixteen Choir (Audio CD - 1990)
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