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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taverner's radiant masterpiece, 13 Nov 2013
This review is from: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas Magnificats [Tallis Scholars] [Gimell: CDGIM 045] (Audio CD)
John Taverner's undisputed masterpiece has long been a class act in the repertoire of the Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips. This is their second recording of the work on their own Gimell label, and this time it is coupled with a fascinating trio of Magnificat settings.

Taking the Mass first, this Tudor-age cantus firmus setting is a unique and remarkable work, quite distinct from any other setting either from England or from the contemporary Franco-Flemish tradition. Taverner's adventurous writing for 6 voices produces an enthralling expression of the Mass text, as well as a complex texture beautifully enhanced by the thrilling, soaring lines of the treble part. Here, with each of the 6 parts - treble, mean, alto 1, alto 2, tenor and bass - sung mainly by two voices, the extraordinarily demanding treble line is taken by sopranos Janet Coxwell and Amy Haworth. These two ladies do a simply fabulous job, their voices as clear, pure and perfectly pitched as you could wish for, and the effect, especially in the treble/lower-voice duo sections and in the increasingly florid passages towards the close of movements, is spectacular.

In his excellent review my colleague E. L. Wisty has commented on the fact that, for this recording, the work has been transposed upwards, resulting of course in a higher tessitura throughout. It is true that this has a significant effect on what we hear but, contrary to his view, I do not find it a drawback. Unlike a couple of recent recordings by the Marian Consort (e.g. Maillard: Missa Je suis déshéritée & Motets), the vocal balance of the Tallis Scholars sounds just right to me, with the lower voices exerting their full weight in both performance and recorded sound and not in any way swamped or overwhelmed by the high voices. The listener's attention is certainly drawn to the lines of the latter by the nature of the composer's writing, and it seems to me that this was what Taverner intended. That effect is emphasised still further by the decision to transpose, but I would guess - and please correct me, somebody, if I'm wrong - that the Tallis Scholars have performed the work this way because they can. Peter Phillips and his colleagues wanted the work to sound spectacular, they have the voices and the skills to make it so, and it does; thus, for me, Taverner's radiant masterpiece is here heard at its very best.

The couplings on this new disc consist of Taverner's three alternatim Magnificat settings for 4, 5 and 6 voices respectively. These have received little if any attention in recordings until now, mainly because the surviving parts for the latter two works were incomplete. But editor Timothy Symons has done superb work in reconstructing the missing parts, resulting in a splendid trio of restored masterpieces. The 4-voice setting, without treble part, brings an appropriate change of texture after the stratospheric Mass ending, and soaring vocal fireworks are similarly absent from the beautiful, mainly lower-voice 5-part setting. For the six-voice work the florid, exuberant treble lines return in their full glory, and the superb "Gloria Patri" conclusion brings the music and its listeners full circle.

This is another superlative disc from the Tallis Scholars, at the peak of their form as they sing this marvellous music; I've singled out the sopranos, but it will come as no surprise to the choir's many admirers that all the singers do a fabulous job. Recorded sound in Oxford's Merton College Chapel is splendid, and Peter Phillips, not content with his impeccable and deeply considered direction of the ensemble, also writes concise, excellent booklet notes. The Tallis Scholars' two sopranos, 'primi inter pares' for the purposes of this recording, deservedly get their own photo on the back page of the CD booklet - together with a glimpse of a fine-looking classic sports car which, I'm ashamed to say, I can't identify. Any offers?
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Nov 2013 22:43:13 GMT
Last edited by the author on 13 Nov 2013 23:00:29 GMT
E. L. Wisty says:
The Id of the sports car has had me puzzled too, quite annoyingly.

On an unrelated subject, I take it you have purchased The Steffani Project?

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Nov 2013 08:25:57 GMT
Last edited by the author on 15 Nov 2013 13:52:14 GMT
Perhaps someone will come up with the answer to the sports car puzzle; there are plenty of classic car lovers out there, but perhaps not so many of them read reviews of Tudor church music? As for Steffani - I probably won't be acquiring this because I already have all three of the single CDs which make up the package. But if you do, ELW, then I'll look forward to your review!

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Nov 2013 14:44:34 GMT
JB says:
My money's on an MG TC.

Posted on 15 Nov 2013 16:14:04 GMT
I do believe you're right, JB! Or does anyone else among our thousands of readers have other ideas? Failing that, we'd better call it an MG TC.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Nov 2013 19:39:59 GMT
E. L. Wisty says:
Ah, I didn't notice that as I don't have any of the three. It may be a while before I get round to buying it as I have quite a few sets to work my way through as it is. I had to buy some wedges the other week to prop my CD shelves back into vertical alignment as they were tilting forward a little precariously under the mass of discs.

Posted on 18 Nov 2013 15:17:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2013 23:45:40 GMT
According to our sources at MI5 (Musical Information Services), the car is definitely an MG TC. So, well done, JB, and sorry there were no prizes for getting it right. Thanks to the Tallis Scholars for confirming the info.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2013 11:07:15 GMT
JB says:
The wing mirrors give it away. MG always did have a knack of adding a finishing touch of tat to what might otherwise have been sublime.
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Review Details



Stephen Midgley

Location: Tarbrax, West Calder, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 321