In September 2015 The Tallis Scholars will reach a tremendously impressive milestone when they give their 2,000th concert in London. Just as remarkable is the fact that all but a handful of those concerts have been directed by their founder, Peter Phillips. To mark the occasion Gimell has released this compilation of recordings, which is described as “Peter Phillips’ favourite recordings of Renaissance polyphony.” And since Phillips is the fons et origo of this remarkable—and remarkably consistent—vocal ensemble surely no one would begrudge him the right to make a personal selection from their recorded legacy to date.
The reasons behind each individual selection, which Phillips sets out in an introductory note, are very interesting. The Palestrina Mass, for instance, earns its place by right: it was the very first piece that the group recorded, way back in 1977. They’ve made three commercial recordings of it—one of which was one of the very few live recordings by The Tallis Scholars. The one that’s included here is the most recent one, their second studio recording. The collection is “book-ended” by another Mass setting, this time by Josquin. It’s right that this should be included because the group achieved their great breakthrough, winning a Gramophone Record of the Year award in 1987, with a disc of Josquin Masses (review), though the recording of this particular one was made some years later.
This compilation consists of back catalogue but that’s reflected in the advantageous price. Even collectors who have several Tallis Scholars CDs in their collection may well find something new to tempt them here—as I did in the case of the Isaac piece. If you’re coming fresh to Renaissance polyphony or to the work of this excellent ensemble then this new set is an ideal place to start. However, be warned: the purchase of Tallis Scholars recordings soon becomes addictive.