Gombert: Magnificats 5-8

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gombert
LABELS: Gimell
WORKS: Magnificats 5-8
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
CATALOGUE NO: CDGIM 038
These wonderful magnificat settings were composed by Nicolas Gombert around the middle of the 16th century. We have already had the first disc (reviewed January 2002) and this second CD completes the set. As we have come to expect of the Tallis Scholars, these performances are artistically confident, musically alert and innovative – not only in the choice of repertoire, but in the daring addition of many accidentals which produces, particularly in Magnificats 6 and 8, some delicious, ear-popping moments of harmonic chewiness.

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There is at the heart of this recording, though, a rather interesting issue: should the performances of these Renaissance religious works be deliberately dispassionate, allowing, as it were, the music to speak for itself, or should they bear the imprint of human supplication and emotive response? The answer here seems to veer towards the anti-emotive, which produces, even so, a tremendously powerful musical culmination at the end of Magnificat 8, but some briskly insensitive patches in Magnificat 5. Curiously, it is in the plainsong sections that the melodies are allowed to bend and sway under the weight of human feeling – especially in the soaringly beautiful antiphon for Mary Magdalene, ‘In diebus illis’. Perhaps pre-Romantic beauty was not bloodless after all. Anthony Pryer