Peter Phillips / The Tallis Scholars

Tomás Luis de Victoria: Lamentations of Jeremiah

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The Tallis Scholars under director Peter Phillips have cultivated a cool, Apollonian sound in a cappella Renaissance vocal music that can be awe-inspiringly beautiful in Flemish polyphony, and especially in the spare English repertory for which they are named. This small, mixed-gender adult choir might not seem an ideal group to take on the darker hues of Tomás Luís de Victoria, but the set of Lamentations of Jeremiah recorded here, music for Holy Week, is quite well suited to their talents. As Phillips points out in his elegant notes (in English, German, and French), Victoria's "Spanish" style was largely forged in Rome, and his somberness was in many ways a personal rather than a national characteristic. It's toned down in the Lamentations, which are oriented toward large-scale structures rather than local expressiveness; each movement builds in intensity and in number of voice parts, as does the entire set of pieces. Victoria sounds most like Palestrina here, and the Tallis Scholars' transparency and dispassionate precision work very well, even in the somewhat more "Spanish" and less intricately polyphonic Lamentations of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla that conclude the program. When a long line seems to shimmer with colors as the sopranos rise, it's sublime. This disc marks the 30th anniversary of the Scholars' own Gimell label, and the engineering, accomplished at the chapel of Oxford University's Merton College, has never been more fetching. Pure Renaissance choral singing at its best.

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