Taverner: Missa Corona spinea & other sacred music
CDH55051 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 1: Gloria
Movement 2: Credo
Movement 3: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 4: Agnus Dei I
Movement 5: Agnus Dei II
Corona Spinea conforms with the established English tradition in that it comprises only four movements, a result of the Sarum rite’s custom of performing the Kyrie troped (that is, with the addition of extra words, according to season) to plainchant. Each movement is laid out to approximately the same length, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei containing more extensive melismatic writing than the Gloria and Credo (part of whose text is omitted, again following local convention). The cantus firmus is deployed in the tenor, where it provides the foundation both for a web of constantly shifting vocal colours in the full sections and also for some of the more delicately scored reduced-voice passages. As it invariably moves in longer note values, the cantus firmus often acts as a pedal point for the other voices to decorate with motivic material. While imitative writing plays a role of some significance especially in the more syllabic full sections, many of the intervening duets and trios are characterised by abstract figuration, sequential ostinato patterns that are sustained and unfolded over lengthy spans with a compelling logic unsurpassed by Taverner himself, and rarely to be found outside the works of Josquin.
Though the overall compass of Corona Spinea extends over the usual twenty-two notes, the disposition of the six voices differs from that of Taverner’s other two festal Masses. Instead of two countertenors, it has two bass parts of slightly different tessitura whose function is more often to support the cantus firmus than to participate fully in the imitative texture. Taverner was able to exploit the contrast between the top and bottom parts to spectacular effect at moments such as ‘Et expecto’ (Credo) and at the opening of the Agnus Dei I. The division of the trebles into two equal parts (a device known as gimel, after the Latin gemellus, twin) in the Benedictus creates an exquisite sonority, only surpassed by the double gimel (divided trebles and means) of Agnus Dei II, which, as in Gloria tibi Trinitas, seems to encapsulate the heart of the work.
from notes by Sally Dunkley © 2000