Playing Elizabethís Tune

The present CD presents the ìconcertî material from the BBC television program, and though absent the sights of a candle-lit Tewkesbury Abbey, the sounds are sumptuous, often exquisite, and leave one without any suspicion that anything is ìmissing.î
The program is a diverse sampling of Byrdís music, ranging from Latin mass and motet to Anglican anthem and canticle, from dense counterpoint to stunningly beautiful chordal homophony, from celebrative tones to the dark hues of poignant lamentation. Byrdís music takes the Tallis Scholars only a short jog from their eponymous home base, and to no oneís surprise, they sing this program with the natural confidence and expertise born of decadesí experience. Their performances are alternately suave, alternately animated, and unflaggingly fluent. From an ensemble that has been one of the standard bearers for the modern performance of this repertory, one would expect nothing less.
The Scholarsí sound is distinctively vibrant and free, a tone that is particularly well-suited to exuberant passages, such as arise in the motet ìVigilateî and the ìGloriaî and ìCredoî from the Mass for Four Voices. The exuberance is exciting and they continue to explore the animated potential of lines with notable flair. The sound also is well-suited to contrapuntal independence of line. However, the lower-voice blend on occasion seems to suffer a bit from the degree of timbral freedom, as in the dark opening of ìNe irascaris,î but softer passages–Sion desertaî in the same motet, for instance–show a warm blendability that surfaces elsewhere, too, as in the moving anthem, ìPrevent us, O Lord.î
The text underlay of the vernacular works requires a sensitivity to period pronunciationóa one-syllable Spirit in the ìMagnificatî from the Great Service, for exampleóand these adjustments are rendered with ease here. The ensembleís Latin, however, persists in being Italianate ìchurch Latin,î and one wonders what so accomplished a group might do with the inflections of sixteenth-century Anglo-Latin as part of their verbal palette.
The program here is admittedly one of ìfavorites,î most, if not all, well known and well represented in the recorded catalogue. Among favorites, I find ìO Lord, Make thy Servant Elizabethî an irresistible gem, complete with an ìAmenî that packs a rose-windowís worth of blossom into just a few measuresí length. The plea at the end of the anthem is that God will grant the Queen a long life; given the beauty of the singing on this recording, one might easily wish the same for those who here sing ìElizabethís Tune.î A splendid recording.
Steven Plank

image_description=Playing Elizabethís Tune: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd.
product_title=Playing Elizabethís Tune: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd.
product_by=The Tallis Scholars; Peter Phillips, Director.
product_id=Gimell CDGIM 992 [CD]