Ceremony and Devotion

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Byrd,Sheppard,Tallis etc
LABELS: Coro
WORKS: Music for the Tudors: Byrd: Laudibus in sanctis; Domine, praestolamur; Haec dies; Infelix ego; Sheppard: Sacris solemniis iuncta sint gaudia; Media vita in morte sumus; Tallis: Jesu Salvator saeculi, Verbum Patris; Miserere nostri; Iam Christus astra ascenderat; plus plainchant: Veni, Creator Spiritus
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR16077

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This disc is a collection of Tudor ‘jewels’. Selected carefully, the works here highlight the diversity of music by Tallis, Byrd and Sheppard. Diversity is, however, lacking in the interpretation. There are glorious moments, particularly in the centrepiece, Sheppard’s Media vita, where The Sixteen’s perfect ensemble, translucent colours and sensitivity to text set the spine tingling.

Yet even as Christophers steers us through complex architecture with authority, he does not vary his treatment of very different compositions. Styles that should contrast do not, generating  a false sense that a homogenous sound reigned with the Tudors.

One basic problem with this recording is numbers – for many works, simply too many singers are performing. Take, for example, Byrd’s Laudibus in sanctis: no matter how delicately the vocalists finesse their lines, its madrigalian bounce becomes a series of bumps because 19 singers are massed together in the homophony. Likewise, Byrd’s intense expression of suffering in Infelix ego loses its edge when we hear superb blend, rather than distinct lines.

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Aided by razor-sharp engineering, this is a beautiful, but sometimes glib, reading of a repertory that is more varied in its genesis than Christophers and a full choir make it sound. Berta Joncus