Alamire / David Skinner

Thomas Tallis & William Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae 1575

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The 1575 publication Cantiones Sacrae was something of a landmark of English music: a major printed-music collection of the sort that had been appearing on the Continent for much of the 16th century. Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were granted a printing monopoly by Queen Elizabeth I and each contributed 17 works to the collection, perhaps because, as ensemble leader David Skinner argues in his booklet notes (in English only), the 17th anniversary of the queen's accession occurred in 1575. That's typical of the level of detail with which the music is presented here. The transposition scheme is laid out in a table, and much is made of the fact that this is the first recording of the whole group of pieces, by the same group of singers and in the order the composers "intended." That's of only minor relevance; the music was never meant for complete performance of this kind. However, when the rubber meets the road these are strong performances by the small mixed-gender group Alamire, which deploys two voices per part. These are Latin motets, several of them quite complex and imposing (try the three-section Tribue Domine of Byrd on disc 2); those by the aged Tallis are intense explorations of an older style with plenty of dissonances that Skinner retains here (some performances edit them out). Some of these works will be familiar to devoted choristers, and these may wish to make the leap to the entire set as a reference; the sound, from the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle in Sussex, is a major plus.

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