I had thought this was the second volume in the Tallis Edition which
Andrew Carwood and The Cardinall’s Musick are making for Hyperion
but, in fact, it’s the third. My misunderstanding arose because the
first volume was released as long ago as 2005, when it was warmly
received by Em Marshall-luck (review). After a long gap, during which they completed their
recordings of Byrd’s music, the group resumed Tallis business with
a release that was greeted by Brian Wilson in its download format
last year (review). I’ve not heard either of those discs but on the evidence
of this latest volume that’s an omission that I must hasten to rectify.
The previous volume contained a setting of the Mass – the Missa
Salve intermerata – and there’s one here too. It’s the incomplete
Christmas Mass, Missa Puer natus est nobis. Its incompleteness
lies in the fact that only a fragment of the Credo, not included here,
has survived. In a splendid booklet note Andrew Carwood discusses
the background to the work which I will summarise – accurately, I
hope, as follows. The fact that the chant on which it is based – and
which we hear in full before the Mass – is the chant for a text from
the Proper of the Mass rather than a chant for a text from the Divine
Office, which is more usual, suggests a firm liturgical connection:
Puer natus est nobis is the Introit for the third Mass of
Christmas day and so this Mass was probably written with the specific
intention that it should be performed on Christmas Day and almost
certainly during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-1558). Carwood also
notes that the seven-part writing omits trebles – the scoring is AATTBarBB
– and this may be connected with the fact that the chapel choir of
King Philip I of Spain, Mary’s husband, does not seem to have used
treble voices. All of which leads some scholars plausibly to suppose
that the Mass was written for Christmas 1554, at the end of the year
in which Mary and Philip were married.
Even without its Credo the Mass is on a substantial scale and the
music is rich in texture and invention. The absence of treble voices
and the seven-part writing gives the setting hues of russet or gold,
I think. It was interesting to compare this performance with the version
by Stile Antico, with which I was greatly taken when it first appeared
in 2010 (review). To suit their line-up Stile Antico perform the Mass
with sopranos on the top and they sing the music in a higher key.
This gives Tallis’s music an altogether brighter hue and while my
admiration for their performance remains undimmed I’m equally impressed
by the account from The Cardinall’s Musick.
Carwood describes the music as ‘sonorous and rich’, a verdict with
which one can only agree. His ensemble gives a wonderful performance
of the Gloria. The textures are full yet there’s no loss of clarity
and Carwood’s four basses provide a satisfyingly full but never heavy
foundation. Andrew Carwood uses two voices to a part in all this music.
As the end of the movement draws closer the music becomes exciting
as Tallis’s use of the various parts builds impetus. The Sanctus is
majestic and here there’s particular fervour in both the music and
the singing; Carwood and his team impart fine urgency to the closing
‘Hosanna in excelsis’. The Benedictus is serene – at least until the
lively ‘Hosanna’ – and the Agnus Dei is rapt; here one has a sense
of order and inevitability as one listens. This Mass contains wonderful
music which is expertly performed here.
One of my favourite Tallis pieces closes the disc: Videte miraculum
which is a Responsory for the First Vespers of the Feast of the Purification
(Candlemas). This glorious work is also included on Stile Antico’s
programme and it’s fascinating to compare the two performances, which
adopt very different approaches. Carwood’s performance, which takes
some two minutes less that Stile Antico’s, is robust and urgent: I
infer that he wants to convey joy and excitement. Stile Antico, who
sing the music at the same pitch, take the music much more slowly
and their approach is contemplative. Their very beautiful performance
better conveys a sense of wonder, I believe. My personal preference
is for the Stile Antico approach and performance but this is not to
deny for one second the validity of Andrew Carwood’s response to the
text and music and his equally expert singers deliver a splendid performance.
I’m just glad to have both versions in my collection.
There’s also a robust approach evident in the opening piece in Carwood’s
programme. The performance of the hymn Salvator mundi, Domine
is vigorous and strongly projected by the singers. I enjoyed that
performance very much as I did that of Benedictus which,
despite its Latin title, is the only work in this programme that sets
a text in English. Composed for TTBarB, the scoring gives the music
a ‘warm sonority’, as Andrew Carwood says. The piece features very
direct word setting in accordance with the expectations placed on
composers by Archbishop Cranmer.
Every piece on this programme is very satisfying and the performances
are first rate, as one has come to expect from this group. The programme
was recorded in the Fitzalan Chapel of Arundel Castle, for centuries
the seat of England’s premier lay Catholic, the Duke of Norfolk. This
seems to have become a venue of choice for the recording of programmes
of this kind in recent years. I’ve enjoyed several recordings which
were made there and this is another successful example, sympathetically
undertaken by producer Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and engineers Martin
Haskell and Iestyn Rees.
If other volumes in this series maintain this level of accomplishment
then I suspect Andrew Carwood’s Tallis series will be as notable as
his earlier Byrd edition. I shall follow it with great interest.
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