SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

The Phoenix Rising = Works of BYRD, MORLEY, TALLIS, GIBBONS, WHITE, TAVERNER – Stile Antico – Harmonia mundi

Another winner from Stile Antico, this time probing the riches of the Tudor Church Music Project.

Published on August 1, 2013

The Phoenix Rising = BYRD: Ave verum corpus, Mass for five voices; TALLIS: Salvator mundi (I); In ieiunio fletu; MORLEY: Nolo mortem peccatoris; GIBBONS: O clap your hands together; Almighty and everlasting God; WHITE: Portio mea; Christe qui lux es et dies (IV); TAVERNER: O splendor gloriae – Stile Antico – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807572, 74:34 (8/13/13) *****:

This recording has its basis in a collection of music called the Tudor Church Music, a ten-volume edition of works by great Tudor composers complied between 1922-29, available only in the originals up to then and also in part format only. After this publication the treasure of this age was given to choirs all over the UK and indeed the world as well in excellent and readable editions. However, there were problems: the original editor, RR Terry, first director of music at Westminster Cathedral, did not push the task along and was ousted by the committee, who made the unenlightened decision to stop the projected 20 volumes and settle for ten, saying that there was little evidence such music would ever be accepted in normal parish settings.

Today most of this repertory has extended to churches everywhere, and in fact the spurt of publication that followed in the next 75 years consisted largely of the music that was part of the ten folios. No one could have foreseen the activity that would come from the period instrument movement and the general worldwide resurgence of interest in medieval music of all kinds. This recording presents music from the TCM collection, from Byrd’s popular work designed for the recusant Catholics and his splendid Mass, to his friend Tallis’s works in the same genre, though done well before the worst of the persecutions was to come. White’s work demonstrates the influence of the older style antiphons, the alternating plainsong and polyphony a characteristic of the time of Bloody Mary’s Catholic revival. The piece of madrigalist Morley redounds to the madrigal even here, a secular work on religious themes that found its way into the TCM as church music—along with some others as well. Gibbons, whose flashiness is well-known to Tudor music lovers, is represented by his exquisite O clap your hands together and more sedate Almighty and everlasting God. John Taverner is from the late Renaissance, an inventive and courageously original composer whose emphasis on syllabic methodology and ecstatic line sets him apart as someone who thrills from the first bar.

I should mention that Stile Antico has seen fit to divide these works among the movements of the Byrd Mass; this gives the impression that some sort of liturgical scheme is in place when in fact it would be hard to justify something as elaborate as this. For the Mass lovers this might prove a deterrent, but the program as a whole, in sumptuous surround sound and sung with a rarified perfection, is extremely satisfying.

—Steven Ritter




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