Just as you thought The Cardinall’s Musick Tallis series was complete, Hyperion has come up with a compilation of all the composer’s Votive Antiphon settings, taken from recordings produced between 2005 and 2016 – Latin Motets that pay tribute to the Virgin Mary, Christ or a Saint. Through these large-scale works one can trace Tallis’s developing style and musical response to the religious vicissitudes of the time – as monarch succeeded monarch from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. Most of these ambitious canvasses are vast continents of lavishly-conceived polyphony which, coupled to their intricate solo writing (set against full-choir passages), precludes them from all but the most determined ensembles.
While both countertenors are a constant throughout this mostly excellent release (so too the recording venue, producer and engineer), voices in other parts change from setting to setting. Much of the time this comes off well, and only ‘Ave, rusa sine spinis’ suffers somewhat: it’s a stolid rendition, with some strident, unyielding solos and a mismatched soprano and bass duet lacking warmth and expression.
There are, however, some sumptuous accounts. Prominent amongst these is the expansive and richly-layered ‘Gaude gloriosa’ – with a comparable sense of monumentality to Tallis’s forty-part ‘Spem in alium’. It’s an opulent paean to the Virgin Mary to which Tallis gives soaring Heaven-bound lines that these performers take in their stride with lustrous tone, and the unflagging energy is thrilling.
Equally impressive is the dignity conveyed in ‘Sancte Deus’, with some wonderfully ear-tickling cadences and with an overall generosity of tone, pliancy and expressiveness. That the singers enjoy themselves is also evident in the varied textures of ‘Ave, Dei patris filia’. But there are times, as in the penitential ‘Suscipe quaeso Domine’, where the singing is rather too hearty when a more subdued tone would be appropriate. Similarly in ‘Salve intemerata virgo’ something more self-effacing from the lower voices would have been welcome.
That said The Cardinall’s Musick commitment to these works is palpable, complemented by consistently clear sound and full annotation, with texts and translations provided. Notwithstanding my few reservations, this is a thoroughly rewarding issue – revealing and uplifting.