This is another superb sequence of Tudor sacred works from the vocal ensemble Magnificat, directed by Philip Cave. Their previous collection, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (SACD - Plays on all CD players), was a brilliant success and this present programme, while very different in tone and in its musical choices, is every bit as fine. It consists of settings of Latin texts by Byrd, Tallis, Taverner and the less familiar figures of Robert White and William Mundy.
I must confess I had not been very familiar with Mundy until recently, but the works by him on this disc won me over completely. The very first piece in the programme, Mundy's 'Vox patris caelestis', is a a magnificent and substantial work, its soaring lines beautifully expressing a text related to the Song of Songs, and it's performed here with ideal pace and flow and with its masterly polyphony as clear as can be. The first of three main sections culminates in a wonderful sequence of chords to the words 'tali sonante gratia' - with graceful notes indeed! The last line of the final section, 'caelesti gloria coronaberis', brings similar delights, and is then concluded with an extended 'Amen' of sumptuous splendour.
The remaining works are just as fine; among my own favourites is Mundy's 'Adhaesit pavimento' (track 2), another work of extraordinary substance and profundity, with its rich balance of voices here allowing the lower registers to show off their quality. White's 'Tota pulchra es' (3) is a beautiful work of ecstatic, soaring lines. Tallis' 'Suscipe, quaeso Domine' (7) has wonderful part-writing, bringing out the very best of Magnificat's polyphonic clarity and vocal balance - the low voices once again sounding at their very best. And the final 'Tribue, Domine' (8) brings us the unarguable beauty and mastery of William Byrd.
This is music of concentrated earnestness and in turn, especially in the rapt spirituality of William Mundy, it rewards intense concentration from the listener. The CD booklet notes are excellent and all texts and translations are supplied. It all amounts to a superb collection of profound and beautiful works and, for renaissance enthusiasts who are willing to take their listening seriously, it's an exceptionally rewarding experience.
I have been impressed with other recordings by Magnificat (Victoria's Officium Defunctorum, for example), and have a liking for Tallis, Taverner, Mundy and Byrd, so this was, to use the modern cliché, a bit of a no-brainer.
The pieces by the less-well known Robert White are not at all out of place, fully justifying Philip Cave's decision to include them.
The performances are every bit as good as I expected.
The recording is well up to Linn's usual high standard.
If you have the equipment the SACD layer is superior to the red book layer, offering more "air", a greater sense of the recording venue, more of the harmonics of the voices, a greater sense of reality. That said (and some seem not to like comments about high res formats) the CD layer is fine.
A minor quibble (and it is both minor and very personal) is that I still prefer the Tallis Scholars' old recording of Mundy's Vox Patris Caelestis, as I like their more ethereal quality. However, that is a matter of very personal taste and Magnificat are very good and are much preferable to the very earthbound The Sixteen in that piece.
Recommended to anyone who likes this repertoire or as a starting point to anyone wanting to investigate for the first time.
I very much enjoyed Magnificat’s prior recording of Tudor church music (Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang), so was looking forward to this companion album. Happily, it does not disappoint! The program contains works with which many will be familiar (e.g., Vox patris caelestis by Mundy, Sucsipe, quaeso by Tallis), as well as a few pieces that are new to the discography (Mundy’s Adhaesit pavimento and White’s Tota pulchra es). The choice of repertoire works quite well, and even the more familiar pieces are conveyed with a sense of freshness.
The performance is excellent throughout. Magnificat’s sound is balanced and clear, with excellent blend. The character of the singers’ voices comes through, but without distracting from the overall ensemble. All of the pieces are sung with commitment and the sense of momentum and phrasing is exemplary. These traits are particularly noteworthy in the opening and closing works: in my opinion, these are much the strongest recordings of both Vox patris and Tribue, Domine that you will find.
One final thought: if you have equipment that can play the files, the hi-res downloads available from Linn Records are very much worth the extra expense. The depth of sound and recording quality are quite extraordinary.
At first glance given the composers featured this might seem like an attempt to showcase the course of changes in English sacred music from pre- to post-Reformation, but it's not quite as simple as that. The earliest composer here, John Taverner, is represented by a work, "Quemamodum desiderat cervus", a six-part composition which is an instrumental in its original source (and like in the booklet for Imperatrix inferni which also features the piece, here there is unfortunately no explanation as to how a text has been fitted to the music), whose style could be considered futuristic and well in advance of its time. William Mundy's three compositions here include the monumental (nearly 22 minutes long) "Vox patris caelestis", a Marian antiphon dating from the reign of Mary and very much harking back to the old days. Robert White is represented by two pieces, and Tallis and Byrd each get a work from the Cantiones Sacrae of 1575, a late flowering of Latin motets, essentially private works, after the public liturgy had switched to English.
Magnificat directed by Philip Cave are certainly a very good ensemble though I wouldn't quite rank them amongst the very finest. Here performing with two/three voices per part they do tend to sound a little "bigger" than that at times with some hissing sibilants one often finds in recordings with three or more voices per part. There are some good accompanying notes plus Latin sung texts and translations.
Having just listened to Gardiner's "Vigilate", along comes another atmospheric dose of Tudor choral music. It's a bit like all your birthdays coming at once. Magnificat is a smaller group than Gardiner's Monteverdis, and in a way this serves this kind of music better, accentuating its wonderful, placid, measured quality, and yet soaring when it has to. Highly recommended.