Tallis Scholars: CD Review

February 7, 2013

ZZ0A09C966This month I want to highlight some rather special artists who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year – The Tallis Scholars, founded in 1973 by conductor Peter Phillips.  They are launching their celebratory world tour with a concert at St Paul’s Cathedral on March 7 – if you can make it, I recommend you do not miss this one.

They will be performed loved works such as Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in Alium, and Allegri’s Misere, as well as premieres of works by Gabriel Jackson, Eric Whitacre, and the London premiere of Robin Walker’s I have thee by the hand, O man, a 40-part homage to Tallis’ piece.  I’ll be there, and a review will follow.

They’ve also released a great 2-CD volume called Renaissance Radio, including highlights of recordings from their vast back catalogue.  And they’ve put together a great programme.  There’s lots of Tallis, obviously, and Palestrina, Victoria and Sheppard are here too.

They commence the first disc with Allegri’s MIsere – but perhaps not as you know it.  The version we are familiar with, so the story goes, is based on Mozart’s transcription of the ornaments as performed in the Sistene Chapel in Rome.  After many years of performing the work, with over 300 concert performances under her belt, soprano Deborah Roberts (yes, our own Co-Director of Brighton Early Music Festival) added her own startling and striking embellishments, providing a wonderful twist to an old favourite.

It’s hard to pick out favourites from this collection of 47 tracks – but apart from the Allegri, I’d have to include Mouton’s beautiful Salva nos, Domine (you can find a review of their full Mouton CD on my blog –, Brumel’s Agnus Dei II from his amazing Earthquake Mass, and Cornysh’s Ave Maria for men’s voices from the Eton Choirbook.

The recordings span 26 years, and the roll call of singers runs to 60 plus, including many singers who have gone on since to solo careers (such as Mark Padmore, Charles Daniels and Michael Chance).  If this wonderful ensemble is new to you, I highly recommend you start with this CD, get to the St Paul’s concert if you can, and then explore their massive back catalogue of wonderful recordings of Renassiance music and more.