Top positive review
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A fantastic recording
on 16 October 2012
The Tallis Scholars are invariably excellent (I have loved their recordings for over thirty years now), but every so often they release a disc which is truly exceptional even by their own stellar standards. This is one of them. Mouton's music is rich, distinctive and astonishingly beautiful, featuring a serenity and sweetness of tone seldom matched in Renaissance polyphony but never becomes bland or monotonous because Mouton varies his mood and effects so cleverly that there is always variety and something new to keep the ear interested and - for me, anyway - often spellbound.
The mass setting here is really excellent, with Mouton's ingenious use of Compere's chanson Dittez moy as a basis binding it together beautifully and keeping even the long movements fresh and interesting throughout. The motets are also terrific, with the amazing setting of Ave maria...virgo serena showing hints that Mouton occasionally came close to Josquin's genius in composition.
The disc ends with Mouton's only well-known work, the fabulously beautiful Nesciens mater. I already have three dearly-loved versions but this may well be my favourite. Sung one to a part, it has a spare clarity which allows it to really shine. As Dorothy L. Sayers said of Dante's Divine Comedy, it has a lasting beauty being built on noble bones and here the Tallis Scholars allow that innate beauty to shine. This is true throughout the disc, which has a deeper, more resonant sound than some Tallis Scholars recordings. The top lines in the mass and two of the motets are taken by the altos, and Donald Greig, a stalwart bass of the ensemble, here sings the baritone part which gives an idea of the often lower pitch. This fits the music perfectly and with the Tallis Scholars' characteristic impeccable technique and deep engagement with the music the whole thing is quite exceptionally beautiful and involving.
The recorded sound (in the lovely acoustic of Merton College Chapel, Oxford) is outstanding and the notes full, readable and interesting. This is an absolutely terrific disc all round and on a par with their Browne, de Rore and Victoria recordings which are among my most treasured discs. Recommended in the warmest possible terms.