The Cardinall's Musick / Andrew Carwood

Thomas Tallis: Missa Puer natus est nobis

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The mixed-gender adult British choir the Cardinall's Musick, whose performances have a bit more muscle than those cultivating the pure cathedral style, has released an unusually strong group of albums devoted to the music of Thomas Tallis. This one, even though its highlight is an incomplete mass, is especially good and could even serve as an introduction to Tallis' Latin-language music. The Missa Puer natus est nobis is something of an oddity: a seven-voice work with no treble (soprano) parts. It is an open question why Tallis chose these forces, with the most likely explanation being the preference of the Spanish king, who was in residence in England in 1554 and 1555. Whatever the reason, the music shows Tallis' skill in dense, text-heavy textures quite unlike those familiar to listeners who know only his limpid English music. What makes the album as a whole especially appealing is the variety of textures in the smaller works that round out the program. Some are hymns with the characteristic Tallis clarity; others look back to the English polyphony of the early Renaissance, with its dissonant (to modern ears) clashes. The result is an unusually well-rounded collection of Tallis pieces, with the stylistic issues and history pertinent to each very well explained by director Andrew Carwood. The Cardinall's Musick here lives up to its reputation as an ensemble that combines research and persuasive performances, and it's hard to imagine how one could improve on the sound from Arundel Castle's Fitzalan Chapel.

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