The Cardinall's Musick / Andrew Carwood

Tallis: Salve intemerata

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Quite a few recordings are available for the listener seeking a recording of Thomas Tallis' choral music, but this one tries to distinguish itself on a couple of fronts. First is the program; second is the vocal ensemble. The program includes a good deal of music from Tallis' youth, before the Protestant takeover of English music. Tallis succeeded in adapting to the politico-religious winds in England, and this program shows just what a feat that was. The marquee work, the Missa Salve Intemerata, was probably composed in the late 1530s. Both it and the massive, still earlier motet on which it is based, are in the style of older English music, with rich, free polyphony creating a monumental effect. They are quite an interesting pair; the motet is almost as long as the mass (which, like other English masses of the period, has no Kyrie), and the mass shows Tallis mastering the Continental parody technique. All this music is in a completely different world from the simple polyphony required by the early Anglican church, a fair sampling of which is also represented here. Almost every collegiate choir has sung If ye love me at one time or another, but the work takes on special impact when it is juxtaposed with what Tallis was doing as a young man under Catholic rule. (He himself remained Catholic throughout his life.) There are also some simple "Psalm Tune" settings that give the flavor of Tallis' Anglican liturgical music. The second distinctive feature of the recording lies in its departure from the usual English cathedral style; the Cardinall's Musick, under director Andrew Carwood, is a two-voice-per-part ensemble of mixed-gender adults. There is no question that this kind of ensemble is a black belt of sorts for a cappella singing, and it does it well. It's also possible that the group is underpowered for the two cathedral-sized Salve intemerata pieces; that's a matter of personal preference. Those interested in the variety of styles in Tallis' music should check this recording out; it is nicely recorded at Fitzalan Chapel at the medieval Arundel Castle in West Sussex, and this venue is of the right dimensions for the choir.

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