Friday, 24 July 2015

Tallis - Spem in alium - Magnificat/Cave

Rating: 5/5

A real beauty

I came late to this recording; I already had at least one version of all the works on this disc which I loved, and wasn't convinced I needed yet another. I was wrong. This is a really exceptional disc on which every work is at least as good as the best I had, and in some cases better.

The music itself is wonderful. Tallis was a great composer and these are some of his loveliest works. There is a very fine range, too, from the overwhelmingly mighty 40-voice Spem in alium to the intimate Mass for Four Voices and Magnificat handle them all excellently.

Philip Cave is a fine tenor in his own right who has sung regularly with the Tallis Scholars for many years, and here he shows that he also a very good director indeed. He has assembled a terrific cast of singers, many of whom have also sung with the Tallis Scholars and other world-class ensembles, and the list includes stars like James Bowman, Sally Dunkley, Andrew Carwood and many others. They produce a truly wonderful sound together: rich and resonant with an exemplary balance and blend and exceptional clarity of individual lines. The sense of the text is very well conveyed, with real passion, delicacy or tranquillity as appropriate.

Spem in alium is exceptionally good: controlled and well paced with real depth of feeling and building to a level of truly spine-tingling power. It is the best version I know - and I'm comparing it with wonderful performances by the Taverner Consort, the Tallis Scholars and others. The Lamentations of Jeremiah is also as good as any I've heard: it laments beautifully without ever being oppressive and the lower pitch chosen by Cave gives really wonderful depth to the basses. The other major work on the disc is the Mass for Four Voices which I have loved ever since I first heard the Hilliard ensemble sing it over 20 years ago, and I never thought I'd hear a performance to match theirs. This one does. With four singers only - one to a part - they produce just the right level of spare beauty and real feeling which drew me in and transfixed me completely. It's wonderful.

I know this review is probably already too long, but I must mention the brief, exquisite Miserere, which is possibly my favourite two-and-a-half minutes of music anywhere. This is perfect: delicate with just the right level of sonority, and soaring to a finish which genuinely brings tears to my eyes each time. The disc is worth buying for this alone, in my view.

Excellent recorded sound, good, intelligent notes and full texts and translations make this an all round gem. Recommended in the strongest terms.

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