To hear the third volume in this fascinating series is almost like taking a step backwards in time. Mary is the ruling monarch, and England is once again nominally a Catholic nation. One cannot help but wonder at the skills, emotions and devices of the composers of this era in not only keeping their positions, but also their heads! Tallis of course had no difficulty in resuming his own professed faith, and the music on this album shows what an effect a return to catholicism had upon him.
Like the first album in the series, the pieces are almost monastic in character, and as the list of works shows, quite a lot of plainsong is used. The main reason for this is that the seven part Mass Puer natus est nobis is only mostly complete. The Gloria is known in toto but the Sanctus and Agnus dei have required a small amount of restoration. The Credo is mostly missing, so the three complete movements of the Mass on this disc are surrounded by the plainchant proper of the third Mass of Christmas, from which the introit Puer natus is taken, before it features as the cantus firmus of the polyphony (incidentally a most unusual feature for this period of music).
As before, the Chapelle du Roi fulfil their part admirably for the most part; the chanting in the plainsong is particularly good, and the understanding and unison amongst the men of the choir is excellent. They also move the notes along in a fashion which whilst never lingering, never sounds hurried. The slight echo in St. Jude's church certainly gives that monastic feel to the music. The Mass in its three main sections shows some wonderful and rich polyphony, but also features writing for smaller numbers of voices in parts, giving intriguing contrasts. The group cope well and project some appealing light and shade. As usual, the intonation is excellent and the music appears to float through the air but in perfect rhythm.
The two motets Beati immaculati and Suscipe quaeso are equally well sung in their 5 and 7 voice settings respectively. The final item Caude gloriosa, a massive votive antiphon, is the only piece to cause me slight doubts. It is certainly high throughout with these demands falling, naturally enough, on the sopranos. Their boyish voices at times sound strained. This is not to say that they are out of tune; they are not. In fact they manage the difficulties of this prolonged piece marvellously well. Just occasionally, however, they show their human frailties. Nick Sandon in his excellent booklet does not say what pitch is being used, and this may be a contributory factor. The only other quibble is that, as with volume 1, the voices of the singers are not identified on a piece by piece basis. Otherwise the standard of production and scholarly research is excellent. The recording is of the same truthful and warm sound as the previous ones in this series. This is a series well worth investigating and collecting. It adds joyfully to our knowledge of this period of English polyphony.