Friday 4 January 2019

Tallis masses and motets from the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court

Tallis - Chapel Royal, Hampton Court - Resonus
Thomas Tallis Missa Puer natus est nobis, Mass for Four Voices, motets; The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace; Resonus  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 January 2019 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★)
A strong and vibrant all-Tallis programme from the men of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace.

During the Medieval period HM Chapel Royal referred not so much to a building as to a body of people, the priests and the singers who followed the monarch around and provided for services wherever the court settled. In more modern, more settled times the term has come to refer to the building as well, the whole establishment, so there are now three Chapels Royal with historic links one at St James's Palace, at Hampton Court Palace and St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower.

On this new disc, from Resonus Classics, we get the chance to hear the Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, conducted by the Chapel's director of music Carl Jackson. The programme is an attractive one of Latin church music by Thomas Tallis, with Missa Puer natus est nobis, Mass for Four Voices, and the motets Suscipe quaeso Domine, In pace in idipsum, Miserere nostri Domine and Loquebantur variis linguis.

The choir's regular line-up consists of six men and 18 boys, with the number of men expanding to 14 for special occasions. On this disc all the music is performed with two singers per part, so the number of performers varies from the full 14, for the opening works on the disc, to just eight. The choir makes a lovely rich, warm and vibrant sound, completely belying the small number of men per part. There is judicious use of vibrato in the voices, and the whole has a strength and upfront richness that is very appealing and you can imagine the music resounding round the historic chapel (the building is that created by Henry VIII but it was re-fitted during the Stuart period).
It is tricky to date some of Tallis' Latin church music, and scholars sometimes disagree over dating. The disc opens with the gorgeous large-scale seven-part motet Suscipe quaeso Domine which was published in Tallis and Byrd's 1575 Cantiones sacrae. The motet could date from the 1570s with the seven parts referring to the seven penitential psalms, and unusually the work was written for seven lower voices with no trebles.

Or there again, the seven may link it to the music that Tallis wrote for Queen Mary in the 1550s when he wrote the Missa Puer natus est nobis for an ensemble which combined the singers from the Chapel Royal with her husband, Philip of Spain's Capilla Flamenca, with Missa Puer natus est nobis (based on a Christmas chant) referring to Queen Mary's presumed forthcoming baby. Or then again, Missa Puer natus est nobis may simply be an academic exercise and not intended to be liturgical at all!

There are two final seven-part works on the disc. The motet Miserere nostri Domine was also printed in the 1575 publication, where it is the seventeenth of Tallis' seventeen contributions in honour of Elizabeth I's 17 years on the throne, and the bassus voice has just seventeen notes (long ones!). Much more of it is ingenious too. In the final seven-part motet, Loquebantur variis linguis, the seven refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Neither the numerology, nor the historical inexactitude hardly matters, because it is glorious music and the seven parts resound wonderfully here in the choir's richly, up-front performance. One of Tallis' gifts was the ability to make the most complex and abstruse of technical exercise (double and triple canons for instance) come over as beautifully sensual music.

Yet he could also do simplicity too. The motet In pace in idipsum is a lovely four-part gem written for Compline, whilst the Latin-texted Mass for Four Voices is far simpler and far more direct than the earlier mass on the disc. This probably reflects the fact that was written during the final years of King Henry VIII's reign when simplicity and directness were more prized in music, pre-figuring the changes after the King's death. Being performed with just eight singer, there is a nice intimacy to the mass but still with the virtues of directness and vibrancy which characterise the rest of the disc.

The sound is sometimes a little too counter-tenor led, but the inner parts are given sufficient weight. Some people will, perhaps, want a suaver, smoother sound but I rather liked the strong, vibrant character of the performance. The choir here comes over as a very distinct personality, rather than simply an assemblage of singers, and there is much to enjoy on this disc.

Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) - Suscipe quaeso Domine
Thomas Tallis - Missa Puer natus est nobis
Thomas Tallis - In pace in idipsum
Thomas Tallis - Mass for Four Voices
Thomas Talls - Loquebantur variis linquis
The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace
Carl Jackson (conductor)
Recorded in HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace on 18-19 July 2018
RESONUS RES10229 1CD [68.22]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Bach's Goldberg Variations - CD review
  • 2018 in opera and concert reviews - article
  • Concerto for silent soloists: my encounter with Gavin Sutherland, music director of English National Ballet - interview
  • That Old Thing: remembering Covent Garden's revivals of historic productions in the 1980s - article
  • The Medieval Tendency - article
  • Bach's Christmas Oratorio at the St John's Smith Square Christmas Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • Illuminating a neglected work: John Andrews & the BBC Concert Orchestra revive Sir Arthur Sullivan's sacred oratorio, The Light of the World  (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Seasonal touches: The Tallis Scholas & Peter Phillips at St John's Smith Square's Christmas Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • The Dead City: Robert Carsen's production of Korngold's Die tote Stadt at the Komische Oper, Berlin  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Cause for Celebration: Roxanna Panufnik on the Last Night of the Proms & commemorating the Centenary of Polish Independence - interview
  • The Sixteen at Christmas - The Little Child  at Cadogan Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • A mash up of Gilbert & Sullivan and the Carry On films: Straus' The Pearls of Cleopatra at the Komische Oper, Berlin  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Messiah in Berlin: Handel's oratorio staged in the Philharmonie (★★★★★) - music theatre review
  • A triumphal Messiah: Andrew Arthur and the Hanover Band at Kings Place  (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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