For the final of this season's Choral at Cadogan concerts The Tallis Scholars under their conductor Peter Philips made a welcome reappearance on May 11th. Their programme mixed a variety of Italian polychoral motets with Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. The group numbered just 10 singers, so that sopranos apart, singers were often performing one to a part. In the rather dry Cadogan Hall acoustic this brings admirable clarity to the texture, but at the expense of the lusciousness which a more resonant venue would give.
They opened with Palestrina's early double choir Surge Illuminare. The intention of the programme was to contrast the cori spezzati of the Venetian school with these more complex poly-choral motets from the Roman tradition. Surge Illuminare was followed by Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli, which is written for 6-part choir, SATTBB. The rich underlay of the lower 4 parts was rather compromised by the brisk tempi. Though beautifully sung, the mass felt as if the singers were rather keen to get the piece over with, it had a briskness and peremptoriness which was at odds with the lovely textures of the music.
Things could not have been more different after the interval. The choir opened with Giovanni Croce's Laudajs Exsultet Gaudio. A brilliant Venetian double-choir work from the choirmaster at St. Marks. This was followed by two further Venetian works from Andrea Gabrieli, Jubilate Deo and Benedictus Dominus Deus. In these pieces the mood of the group matched the music in a far better manner and created a brilliant effect. The single voices per line and the acoustic brought clarity and the voices brought sparkle and subtlety.
Dominique Phinot was a Franco-Flemish composer whose poly-choral music is some of the earliest. His Lamentations were a revelation, given a beautifully controlled performance with the singers enjoying the different polychoral textures.
They finished with Festa's small but perfectly formed Quam Pulchra Est and Palestrina's Laudate Pueri. The Festa was the only 4-part piece in the programme, but it used 3 upper voices and a tenor rather than SATB.
Palestrina's Laudate Pueir is far from formulaic in its use of multiple voices, as Palestrina combines different voices to achieve a flexible series of textures.
As an encore we were treated to Lassus in poly-choral mode.
The hall was nearly full for what is fast becoming a popular series at the Cadogan Hall. Next year's choral programme has been announced and is well worth investigating. It includes a tribute to the late Tessa Bonner, the Monteverdi Vespers, I Fagiolini as well as music from the Baltic and Estonia.