Armonico Consort / Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge / Christopher Monks / Geoffrey Webber

Supersize Polyphony

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The title Supersize Polyphony here may seem an unwarranted intrusion of advertising-speak into the rarefied realm of Renaissance choral music, but it's apt enough. The 40-part motet Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis has always been something of a mystery among Renaissance compositions, seemingly unlike anything else in the repertory of the period. It became slightly less of a mystery when choirs learned of its likely derivation from a motet and mass by composer Alessandro Striggio, which expands to an even more mind-boggling 60 voices in the Agnus Dei of the mass. The two works have been combined on recordings several times, but there are several new wrinkles here. One is the inclusion of chants by Hildegard of Bingen, completely ahistorical as a performance practice, but quite effective as a total contrast with the choral work. The second is the remarkable engineering from Signum. The performances by the blended ensemble of the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, under Geoffrey Weber, and Armonico Consort under Christopher Monks, are clean and elegant, remarkably so in view of the mixed nature of the ensemble. The separation of the polyphonic lines in the big choral pieces may be unprecedented. Sample the Agnus Dei of the Striggio Missa sopra Ecco si Beato Giorno, in 60 voices, and you never get the usual feeling of hearing a wall of sound. To judge from the booklet, the singers did not perform in the round as they have sometimes done with these pieces. Instead, the engineers seem to have done their homework extraordinarily well at St George's Church, Cambridge (not the college chapel where the choir usually performs). At any rate, these are sonically definitive performances of these famous, freakish works.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 06:54
Missa sopra Ecco Sì Beato Giorno
2 03:36
3 05:33
Missa sopra Ecco Sì Beato Giorno
4 04:10
5 01:42
Missa sopra Ecco Sì Beato Giorno
6 06:47
7 04:49
Missa sopra Ecco Sì Beato Giorno
8 03:49
9 03:09
10 02:26
Missa sopra Ecco Sì Beato Giorno
11 05:48
12 01:50
13 02:24
14 08:37
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