This is the fourth recording that The Cardinall’s Musick have made of Tallis for Hyperion, so it’s beginning to look certain that they are intending to offer a complete set to rival Chapelle du Roi. The component discs have been available individually on Signum, as a complete set at super-budget price from Brilliant Classics (94268—review) and until recently in a 2-albums distillation from Regis, of which some dealers may still have copies. There’s also a single Regis album of Spem in alium, the Lamentations and several motets (RRC1394—review of earlier release: Bargain of the Month). Excellent as Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi are, it’s good to have such equally fine alternatives.
On earlier releases they gave us Gaude gloriosa and other music (CDA67548—review), Salve intemerata and other music (CDA67994—Recording of the Month—review) and the Mass Puer natus est (CDA68026—Recording of the Month—review). I ended my review of the most recent of these by hoping that Volume 4 would follow hard upon its heels and here it is. The saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ is certainly not applicable: this is all that I could have wanted.
CDA68026 consisted wholly of Tallis’s Latin-texted music, apart from the English Benedictus, but there are three contrafacta here—music originally composed with Latin texts adapted to English alternatives—and two of the nine tunes which Tallis composed for Archbishop Parker’s metrical psalter. Of the contrafacta, as Andrew Carwood writes in the booklet, 'Wipe away my sins is a little gem because the new words fit the music like a glove'.
We’ve had the psalm settings before, notably from Chapelle du Roi, but there’s an additional interest in the new performances in that the accompanying collects, the prayers which Parker wrote to round off the psalms, are intoned. Of the two included here don’t be surprised if Why fum’th in fight sounds vaguely familiar—though it’s one of the simplest of Tallis’s compositions, Vaughan Williams came across it when compiling the music for the English Hymnal and was so impressed that he turned it into that little masterpiece, his Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.
There are some fine alternatives for the longest work on the new recording, the four-part Mass: Chapelle du Roi/Alistair Dixon on SIGCD002—review; Magnificat directed by Philip Cave on Linn (with Spem in alium, renumbered as BKD233—DL Roundup September 2009) and Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerley on Naxos 8.550576, all coupled with other Tallis works. The new recording can hold its head high in their company. Carwood takes all but the Sanctus and Benedictus faster than Summerly without sounding at all hurried. He gives those two sections a little more space—a little more than Dixon and Cave, too—as befits their role as preparatory to the Canon or consecration prayer.
There is only one (strong) competitor for the work which gives its name to the new Hyperion album, on Signum SIGCD001. Alistair Dixon takes the music a little more slowly than Andrew Carwood but overall there is very little in it: here again the new recording makes a most convincing alternative.
Better times or not, though Hyperion have nurtured The Cardinall’s Musick since they switched labels, Universal have neglected many of the recordings which they made for ASV Gaudeamus earlier in their career. Among these is an album of Music at All Souls, Oxford which contains Tallis’s Verily, verily I say unto you (CDGAU196, with music by Sheppard, Tye, Parsons, Merbecke, etc.). Until they reissue it, as I hope they will, it can be downloaded in mp3 or lossless sound from Presto or from 7digital.com in mp3. See DL Roundup April 2011/1 but NB: passionato.com link no longer applies.
The recording was made in the amenable acoustic of the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel. I have listened both to the album and to the 24-bit download from Hyperion.
As always with Hyperion the notes contribute considerably to the overall excellence. The average reader may, however, be confused by references to works not included on the current album—those that are included are highlighted in bold type. Nor would I have thought it wise to use terms such as ‘mean’ (usually spelled ‘meane’; Latin medius, the middle voice of a polyphonic work), discantus (the highest voice) or Decani and Cantores (the two sides of the choir, still designated as such in English cathedrals) without explanation for non-specialists.
Even if you already have the complete Signum/Brilliant Classics set or many of the individual albums from it, the new Hyperion and its predecessors should be on your wish list. The four volumes issued to date cover almost half of Tallis’s extant output. Roll on the rest.