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Tallis Scholars @ Clarice Smith

Peter Phillips
Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars were under review at Ionarts less than a year ago, at the end of their 2007 U.S. tour, but no one will hear complaints from me that they were back on Sunday night at the Clarice Smith Center. As mentioned here many times before, groups like the Tallis Scholars and the Hilliard Ensemble made life as a graduate student of early music much more of a pleasure as far as listening lab hours went. The program featured a most welcome live performance of Victoria's Requiem Mass, found on one of their most popular recordings, a work that we reviewed at National Cathedral in January. Again, no complaints here, as it is one of the most gorgeous and affecting pieces of music ever composed.

Tallis Scholars:
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Josquin Desprez, Missa Sine nomine / Missa Ad fugam (March 11, 2008)

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Requiem (settings by Cardoso, Alonso Lobo, Duarte Lobo, and Victoria)
The main problem with this concert was the venue. It is not that the CSC's Dekelboum Hall is not a fine enough hall, but the stark acoustic again underscored, as the National Cathedral concert had but in reverse, how this music is intended for a certain kind of enveloping, resonant space. One kept hoping for some big stone pillars to sprout up for the sound to bounce against. The personnel these days is almost completely different than that found on the group's signature recordings from the 80s and 90s. The problems noted in the Shriver Hall concert last year were still there but seemed less pronounced. There was an occasional lack of unity among the sopranos, and one male alto voice and a prominent bass protruded from the ensemble too much at times. The solidity of the classic recorded Tallis sound, a tightly packed and almost always full-throated style of singing, is still there but has been made slightly more transparent.

Prof. Patricia P. Norwood
Prof. Patricia Norwood
Died January 22, 2008

Since it is a terrible waste to perform Victoria's Requiem Mass without praying for the repose of someone's soul, we offer it in memory of Prof. Patricia Norwood, a musicologist formerly on the faculty of the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, Va.). She was not only an exceptional scholar and teacher but also the kindest face of the local chapter of the American Musicological Society, welcoming even us lowly graduate students from my first meeting with that group in 1992.
Director Peter Phillips often favors quick tempi, a choice that can emphasize the functionality of a setting like Victoria's Taedet animam meam lesson at the opening of the Requiem. There was a coldness, an intensity of excessive technicality that overshadowed the concert in a sense, with a minimum of dynamic and textural contrasts. Of course, the second half of the concert did hold some expressive thrills, like the soaring soprano line in the middle of the funeral motet Versa est in luctum and the sweeping crescendo at the repeat of the respond in Libera me.

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, Tallis Scholars (Washington Post, March 4)
The legacy of the Tallis Scholars on disc (for their own label, Gimell) is more important than in concert, because editing can create, as much as such a thing is possible, a perfect rendition of a classic work of the Renaissance. In that vein, the group has announced, as of December 2007, that it will complete its recording cycle of all of Josquin's Mass settings, with a new volume (the two most strictly contrapuntal settings, Missa Sine nomine and Missa Ad fugam) coming out next week. We can hope that some of the more obscure pieces on the first half, all by composers connected with the Cathedral of Évora, Portugal, will eventually be preserved in recordings. This is especially true of the pieces by Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), like the delicious clashes of dissonance in his Lamentations setting and Magnificat Secundi Toni. Add to that wishlist pieces by Duarte Lobo (c. 1565-1646) and especially Diogo Diaz Melgás (1638-1700), like the motets Adjuva nos (with its chromatic subject rising upward at "peccatis nostris") and Domine hominem non habeo, which just happens to be from the Bethsaida narrative at the heart of Dominick Argento's new piece for Washington National Cathedral.

This year's U.S. tour by the Tallis Scholars continues this week, with performances in New York (March 6), Chicago (March 7), and Kansas City (March 8).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, they have recorded the Cardoso Magnificat and some pieces by Lobo. Look in the Gimell catalog for the albums devoted to the respective composers and each headlined by their Requiems.

The Cardoso is also on a two disc set issued by Philips called Best of the Renaissance--essentially a greatest hits collection, so it includes the Allegri Miserere, Spem in Alium, and Missa Papae Marcelli, a Byrd Mass, Josquin's Missa Pange Lingua, and scattered others including Gesualdo and Taverner. That set is how I was first introduced to the Tallis Scholars, and blew me away. Slightly disappointed to hear that their quality has declined somewhat.

But I'm still tempted to order the whole catalog at one blow...