Tenebrae / Nigel Short

Medieval Chant and Tallis Lamentations

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Recordings of chant tend to fall into two groups: those concerned with the beauty of the singing and the singers themselves, and those that attempt to place the chant into something like its liturgical context. This recording by Britain's hot Tenebrae Consort falls somewhere in between. The program consists mostly of a set of chants for the Compline service for Holy Week, drawn from the unusual Sarum chant repertory used in England until the time of the Reformation. For several of the texts, polyphony, in the form of the great Lamentations of Thomas Tallis and a respond by John Sheppard, is added. The general idea of adding polyphony to a sequence of chants fits what would have been done at the time, even if it was Sheppard, rather than Tallis, whose music was associated with the Sarum Office. Musically it all works beautifully. The Tenebrae Consort is pared down to five singers here (four for the chants themselves), and the entire event has an intimate quality, centered on the texts (all reproduced and translated into English in the booklet). And the sound environment of London's small All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, is strikingly well suited to the aims of the project. Strikingly beautiful, even if it is a little hard to tell what the overarching principle of the program is.

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