Tallis: Spem in Alium

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tallis
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Tallis
WORKS: Spem in Alium
PERFORMER: The King’s Singers
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 071
Thomas Tallis’s monumenal motet Spem in alium has been recorded by many of the leading British vocal ensembles and it obviously proved irresistible to The King’s Singers. Thanks to their commitment to the recording, they have realised the impossible: performing a 40-part work with just six singers. The technical wizardry of such a task is laudable, involving singing to click-tracks, over-dubbing, digital multi-tracking and some sophisticated editing and mixing, all of which artifice has produced this CD single – just over eight minutes of music, available with impressive surround sound, plus an interview with the singers about the project.

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One can’t but admire the impeccable intonation, rhythmic precision and immaculate ensemble of this performance, yet the cumulative effect is disturbingly clinical. It lacks rhythmic pliancy as well as the sense of direction and shape that makes this musical edifice so powerful. The motet’s seraphic quality is weakened, too, having been transposed down to suit the all-male ensemble.

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There are fine recordings of Spem by The Sixteen and The Tallis Scholars but the Taverner Consort and Choir under Andrew Parrott remains the benchmark – Parrott’s distinctive insights combine with some visceral singing and a splendid recorded sound. Kate Bolton