The first volume of Paul Hillier's series on the music of Taverner and the Tudor era was a warm, clean recording of Taverner's mass on the popular song The Western Wynde. Two years later, Hillier and his Danish choir, Ars Nova Copenhagen, have released the second volume. Recorded around the same time as the first, at 2005 and 2006 sessions in St. Paul's Church in Copenhagen, this program was built around Taverner's other famous setting of the Latin Ordinary, the Missa Gloria tibi trinitas. This six-part polyphonic Mass is best known for having given rise to the genre of the In Nomine (generally for viol consort), discussed in a review last week. Hillier's version is not wanting for competition, but its fleet tempi, perhaps overly so, make it stand out. The Gloria, for example, clocks in at 9:47, compared to Harry Christophers with the Sixteen (12:29, on Hyperion) an Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars (10:25, on Gimell); Hillier's versions of the other three movements are generally the shortest, too.
Taverner, Missa Gloria tibi trinitas, Ars Nova Copenhagen, P. Hillier
(released on November 18, 2008)
Ars Nova 8.226056
Missa Gloria tibi trinitas
Hillier has matched the Mass not with another major work but with a selection of shorter pieces that might have accompanied the Mass in its original liturgical setting. Some proper chants and antiphons for the Feast of the Trinity include Gloria tibi trinitas, which was the first antiphon of Vespers on that day and provided the cantus firmus of Taverner's polyphonic Mass. The other polyphonic works are by composers from just before or just after the height of Taverner's career, to round out a typical day in a Tudor period English chapel. These include settings of the Magnificat by Robert Fayrfax (for Vespers) and the hymns Christe qui lux es and Te lucis ante terminum (both for Compline) by Robert White, William Byrd, and Thomas Tallis. These services, at the beginning and end of the liturgical day, frame the normal placement of the Mass in the middle of the day, although the texts selected here are not specific to Trinity.
The arrangement of voices is quite similar to both the Sixteen and the Tallis Scholars, with women's voices on the top two lines and the resulting high tessitura. Hillier's approach tends to make the fuller textures a little more transparent in the inner voices, so that only three sopranos tend to dominate, with the male voices divided into four parts. The tenors have an even sound, reserved at its strongest for when they are at the top of the texture, in the many sections for reduced voices. It is an excellent performance of an intriguing program, which comes in value-wise somewhere between the other two, slightly older performances at present prices.