Saturday, 22 March 2014

Medieval Chant and Tallis Lamentations

Medieval Chant - Tenebrae Consort - SIGCD901
Medieval chant and Tallis Lamentations: Tenebrae Consort, Nigel Short: Signum Bene Arte
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

A sequence of chant and polyphony sung by the all male Tenebrae consort

This new disc on Signum from Nigel Short and the Tenebrae Consort is described as a sequence of chant and polyphony for Holy Week. In fact it rather imaginatively consists of the entire plainchant service of Compline, plus a number of other plainchant items which fit nicely with it along with Thomas Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah and John Sheppard's In manus tuas I, a setting of the respond for Compline in Passiontide. The Tenebrae Consort consists of four singers, Guy Cutting, Nicholas Madden, Richard Bannan and William Gaunt, directed by Nigel Short with David Allsopp joining the group of the polyphonic items.


The disc opens with the Pange Lingua, not the long version used in the Good Friday Liturgy but just the first four verses which are used, with a different melody, as the hymn on Passion Sunday. This is followed by the complete Compline for Passiontide in the usage of Sarum. It was the Sarum liturgy (from Salisbury) which was the most common in pre-Reformation England, rather than the Roman liturgy. Compline consists of a sequence of Psalms, antiphons, readings, a hymn and a canticle all given in poised and beautifully rounded plainchant. The psalms are chanted very properly with significant pauses at each line, which does start to sound a little stylised when listening at home.

The text of the Lamentations of Jeremiah is used for the first two lessons of the Night Office on Maundy Thursday. Thomas Tallis's settings are thought to have been written for private use as devotional music rather than for liturgical purposes. The group follow each of Tallis's settings with what would be the correct plainchant Respond if the text had been used liturgically. Sung in a low key David Allsopp's counter-tenor on the top line, the feel is rich and dark. The first notes open magically, with the polyphony unfolding beautifully. If you heard this by candle-light at the Tenebrae service then your spine would surely tingle. The face that so small a group is singing the work makes for a highly responsive performance, whilst never seeming thing or underpowered. The two plainchant Responds are significant works in their own right, here sung with flexibility and poise.

John Sheppard's In manus tuas I, which incorporates the chant into a polyphonic setting, comes from the Tudor tradition of providing polyphonic versions of parts of the Compline service. It is a work which I am familiar with in a concert setting, and lovely to hear in such a poised, controlled and expressive performance in a Liturgical context. The disc is completed with the plainchant Litany used in Lauds on Maundy Thursday.

This is a lovely disc, the consort sings with a beautifully rich, smooth and rounded tone, giving the chant a fine combination of strength and flexibility. They approach the chant from a musical point of view, music has the primacy here with text coming second whereas in a genuine Liturgical context it would be the other way round. But I suspect that many listeners will be entirely content with the performance. The whole approach as a richness and warm, with both the plainchant and the polyphony having a full, well-supported feel in addition to a fine sense of line, just the way I like to hear this music.

Following on from Tenebrae's Russian disc this is a highly imaginative programme. It takes a nicely purist view and gives us the complete Compline service and with the additions makes a satisfying whole. I do hope that they record more.

Plainchant - Hymn for Passiontide: Pange lingua gloriosi [3.12]
Plainchant - Deus in adiutorium [0.53]
Plainchant - Antiphon: Miserere, Psalms: Com invocarem: In te Domine speravi: Qui haitat in adiutorium: Ecce nunc benedicte [10.57]
Plainchant - Chapter: Tu in nobis es, Respond: In manus tuas [1.21]
Plainchant - Hymn: Cultor dei memento [3.53]
Plainchant - Versicle and Response: Custodi nos [0.23]
Plainchant - Antiphon: O Rex Gloriae, Canticle: Nunc dimittis [4.28]
Plainchant - Preces, Collect, Benedicamus [5.23]
Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585) - Lamentations of Jeremiah I [8.27]
Plainchant - Respond: In monte Oliveti [2.19]
Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585) - Lamentations of Jeremiah II [13.35]
Plainchant - Tristis est anima mea [2.34]
John Sheppard () - In manus tuas I [3.43]
Plainchant - Litany after Lauds for Maundy Thursday [3.45]
Tenebrae Consort
Nigel Short (director)
Recorded at All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 24-25 October 2013
SIGNUM BENE ARTE SIGCD901 1CD [65.23]
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