The Tallis Scholars

John Taverner: Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas [2013 Recording]

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John Taverner's six-part Missa "Gloria tibi Trinitas," perhaps composed in the late 1520s, is among the landmarks of the early English Renaissance. It has a Bachian combination of grandeur and intellect. The mysteriously compelling setting of the words "In nomine Domini" in the Benedictus, in a reduced four-voice texture that seems naturally taken by solo voices, gave rise to a tradition of instrumental elaboration that lasted a century and a half (and actually is still spawning new works). As Tallis Scholars conductor Peter Phillips points out in his concise and informative notes, nobody at this late date has quite been able to spell out what was so fascinating about it, but a performance as beautiful as this one seems to give an idea: it is an oasis of polyphonic beauty surrounded by huge, sweeping lines that are among the most difficult in the entire Renaissance repertory to sing. This recording marks the 40th anniversary of Britain's Tallis Scholars, and they were seemingly intent on marking the occasion by really showing what they could do: they transpose the work upward, give some throat to their sound, and assign the top lines to a pair of really spectacular sopranos, Janet Coxwell and Amy Haworth. The work has also been performed by boys, which might have been more authentic historically, but the version here seems to accord with the ambitious essence of the work. Another bonus here is a trio of Magnificat settings, extant only in incomplete manuscripts and completed here by editor Tim Symons. The Magnificat for six voices (track 7), especially, is cut from the same cloth as the mass. Equally good as part of a large Renaissance library or as an introduction to what this virtuoso British a cappella choir is all about.

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