Pro Cantione Antiqua / Mark Brown

Tallis: Spem in Alium; Lamentations; Motets & Hymns

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The small American reissue label Alto has specialized in worthwhile recordings from the 1970s through the 1990s, many of them in the field of early music. This one, by veteran British choir Pro Cantione Antiqua, combines recordings made in 1987 and 1997. More refined choirs specializing in this repertory, such as the Tallis Scholars, have come along since this group's heyday, but this is an especially nice Pro Cantione Antiqua collection to have back on the market. The big attraction, in more ways than one, is Tallis' magnificent 40-part motet, Spem in alium, written for eight separate choirs of five parts each. Pro Cantione Antiqua, normally a group of about 15, took on extra singers for this work and drilled them well. It's a marvelous performance, taken at a considerably slower tempo than almost all the others on the market, and bringing out Tallis' polyphony in impressive detail. Spem in alium tends to turn into a wall of sound, something that groups have tried to combat with various measures including engineering trickery, but here pure musicality carries the day. Beyond that, the album works well as a survey of Tallis' works, with slow tempos also helping delineate the intense chromaticism in the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Several other Latin motets are included, as well as a few of Tallis' simple and familiar English Protestant anthems. A fine presentation of some recordings that are sounding like classics.

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