These two masses by John Taverner show him at the height of his considerable powers, as one of the finest composers of the Renaissance period. He completed no fewer than eight settings of the mass, plus some fragments and numerous motets. These particular examples are relatively compact settings that do not compromise the natural fluency of the composer’s style, and as such they make an ideal pairing. The Western Wynde Mass is rather better known than Mater Christi, but the latter is also a notable composition with a somewhat more expansive approach, developing material deriving from Taverner’s own motet of that name. It is therefore thoughtful and rewarding that the motet is included on this recording; indeed it is the very opening item.
These performances from the Choir of Westminster Abbey are admirable: beautifully judged in both their balance and shaping. The atmospheric acoustic of St Alban’s Holborn (not the Abbey itself) contributes hugely in successfully capturing the music’s intrinsic qualities and how they are represented in this recording. There is ideal balance between ambience and precision, so that in the five-part Mater Christi Mass in particular, the individual lines come across with the utmost clarity: the lower voices in the ‘In nomine’ provide a perfect example of this. If the trebles do not make such an immediate impression, they still contribute successfully to the overall effectiveness of the music.
James O’Donnell directs a most sensitive rendition of the four-part Western Wynde Mass, ideally paced while again bringing particular point to details found within the texture. There is a another recent issue, directed by Andrew Parrott (Avie AV2352), in which the Mass is coupled with a varied programme of shorter items, not all of them by Taverner. It is hardly surprising that this also offers an interpretation that does justice the music, perhaps more dramatically than O’Donnell’s more restrained and arguably more beautiful version.
Tribute must also be paid to Jeremy Summerley’s splendid accompanying notes, as well as to the qualities of presentation and design found in the Hyperion booklet, once again setting the standard against which all others should be judged.