I remember the first time I heard the Tallis Scholars: 1980, Allegri's Miserere, the voices perfectly framed in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, and the ethereal beauty of Alison Stamp's solo treble soaring into the acoustic—all for £1.99 on a Classics for Pleasure LP. It still sounds so fresh, and a perfect opening for this 30th birthday celebration. Volume 1 chronicles the first decade of The Tallis Scholars and their label Gimell. There's Allegri, a Byrd Mass, Victoria's Requiem, an entire disc of Thomas Tallis, then the Flemish school, before the then little-known names of Sheppard and Cornysh—at least alongside Palestrina, as they are here. Sheppard's Media vita is common currency these days for the likes of Stile Antico and The Sixteen, but it's still the Tallis Scholars to whom you turn for the essential purity and transparency of these complex textures. As Peter Phillips emphasises, this was always their goal: a guarantee of good tuning, blend, precision and clarity—and by having their own independent label, he would always have the time for as many takes and edits as it took to keep the magic that brings the music to life.
Volume 2 brings the best of the 1990s, and opens with another essential recording: Brumel's Earthquake Mass, and 12 vocal parts teeming with incident and detail, yet remaining crystal clear. The disc of Lamentations is devastatingly beautiful, and the riches of Renaissance Portugal are celebrated in Cardoso's Requiem, performed here with ecstatic stillness.
Volume 3 brings us the 21st-century Tallis Scholars and the first recording of Gombert's cycle of expressively adventurous Magnificat settings. The Allegri is revisited, and redecorated, and the box ends with Masses by Josquin, their current preoccupation.
Recording quality is superb throughout, and presentation is excellent with notes in three languages, and a fourth booklet in each box for texts. The sequencing has been done with real care, and for an overview of Sacred Music in the Renaissance, this could be all you need. Yes, for some the Tallis Scholars are too clean, too objective. Too perfect? That's a problem I wish I had more often.