The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

The evening’s full complement of fourteen singers opened with John
Taverner’s six-part Magnificat, ably, convincingly reconstructed from
the parts that remain. Plainsong roots were evident – that is, after
all, how it opens – as was the great musical flowering, both in work
and performance, from that most fertile of soil. Melismatic duetting
sopranos and tenors on ‘eius’, the whole choir likewise on
‘suo’: detail was attended to without exaggeration. The greater
unfolding was, unsurprisingly, the thing, however. ‘Sound’ did
not especially vary; textural variety spoke for itself, Taverner’s
ornate doxology culminating in a radiant ‘Amen’.

William Cornysh’s Ave Maria– not the familiar text
– perhaps sounds more ‘austere’ to our modern ears,
closer to its mediæval past, not least in terms of harmonic
relationships. Such would hardly be surprising, given its earlier date of
composition. Yet it speaks – and here, in performance, spoke –
just as clearly, if differently. Just as much ‘happens’, so
long as one listens. John Brown’s Stabat Matersounded,
rightly or wrongly, somewhere in between: as much, I think, a matter of
programming as of material. It flowed beautifully, sadness lying in the
words rather than in any Romantic, ‘emotional’ sense.
Antiphonal passages – such as that between soprano and bass parts,
‘Quis non potest contristari…’ – caught the ear
and, more important, returned us to experience and contemplation of the
celebrated poem. Nevertheless, the cries of ‘Crucifige,
crucifige’, if hardly Bachian, seemed to echo through the ages with
the accumulated weight of crucified tradition.

Tallis’s Te Deum ‘for meanes’, which opened the
second half, immediately sounded very much of ‘our’ Anglican
tradition, even thought that requires more than a little backdating. Its
English text is one thing, of course, but its directness, its interplay
between ‘dec’ and ‘can’ (the two sides of the
choir’), its harmony, and much else had it sound more modern than
perhaps it is. One drew parallels, of course, not least points of detail
– false relations, for instance – with what had gone before,
but it was a different church, a different Church too, brought forth in
one’s visual as well as aural imagination. Might it have been
performed with a little more drama? Yes. Should it have been? Perhaps.
Again, however, there was much to glean from the gentle, informed respect
with which these voices and their director brought it to life.

Cornysh’s Gaude virgo mater Christiseemed to offer merely in
its notes something a little more – this is highly relative –
of a lament. Our conceptions of what ‘fits’ a text, however,
are not necessarily those of a fifteenth-century composer. It would be
mightily strange if they were. The music once again drew us in to the text,
another hymn of praise to the Virgin. Two works by John Sheppard concluded
the concert. The Compline alternation of chant and polyphony founded upon
it in Sheppard’s Jesu salvator saeculiyielded subtle
secrets, not least in the surprising – so long as one listened!
– final ‘Amen’. The Marian votive antiphon, Gaude virgo Cristiphera– according to James M.
Potter’s helpful booklet note, the only example we have from Sheppard
– took longer, considerably longer over its words, offering a radiant
sense of culmination. This, one felt, was a world of wonders almost yet not
quite vanished. The more we listened, the more we shared in it: quite right

The encore, Purcell’s Hear my Prayer, still sounds very much
‘with us’: too much so, some might argue, accusing us of
sentimentalising. So be it; those grinding dissonances implored as few
harmonies can. The English Orpheus will always be with us; so too will his
predecessors – as, indeed, will his successors. Why choose?

Mark Berry


Magnificat a
6; Cornysh: Ave Maria; Browne: Stabat Mater; Tallis: Te Deum ‘for meanes’; Cornysh: Gaude virgo mater Christi; Sheppard: Jesus salvator seculi; Gaude virgo Christiphera. Tallis
Scholars, Cadogan Hall, London, Tuesday 2 October 2018.

image_description=The Tallis Scholars with Peter Philips (centre) [Photo by Nick Rutter]
product_title=The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: The Tallis Scholars with Peter Philips (centre)

Photo by Nick Rutter