Missa Gloria tibi trinitas
Contrapunctus; Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford/Owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD 570 76:18 mins
This disc weighs the different sides of Tudor composer John Taverner, from the towering, complex and often virtuosic Gloria tibi trinitas Mass to the terse and solemn setting of the Ave Maria – performed here as Cardinal Wolsey prescribed, with the chiming of a church bell. Both works were possibly written for the collegiate foundation Wolsey created: Cardinal College, Oxford (now Christ Church), where Taverner was master of the choristers. To paint the composer’s two faces, scholar-director Owen Rees brings together both of his crack ensembles: the vocal consort Contrapuntus and the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford. The 40-strong collective recreates the lavish sound that Taverner himself might have preferred for special feast days. Contrasting the solo voices of Contrapuntus with the full-bodied choral sound, Rees sculpts the musical lines in low and high relief: delicately etched passages – exquisitely sung by the solo voices of Contrapuntus – give way to the sonorous, often seraphic, sound of the full ensemble. These dramatic contrasts make the Trinity Sunday Mass one of the masterpieces of Tudor polyphony, and also characterise the jubilant Marian antiphon Gaude plurimum, to which Rees brings just the right balance of grace and vigour.
The female voices of Queen’s College choir sound aptly boyish, reflecting the original all-male performing resources, and their timbre is generally radiant (though at more stratospheric moments, the sopranos tend to force their voices, souring the pitch). The recording is faultlessly engineered: lucid and vividly present.