Taverner: Missa ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’; Mater Christi, Dum transisset Sabbatrum; O Wilhelme

COMPOSERS: Taverner
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Taverner
WORKS: Missa ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’; Mater Christi, Dum transisset Sabbatrum; O Wilhelme
PERFORMER: Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2123
Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas is an iconic piece in the choral repertory and there are fine recordings by The Tallis Scholars – pristine and technically unrivalled – as well as The Sixteen, who capture the work’s extremes of intimacy and expansive devotional fervour. (Sadly, The Taverner Consort’s visceral account directed by Andrew Parrott is not currently available.) It would be hard to come closer to the sound the composer might have envisaged in the 1520s than this performance by the musical descendants of his own choir. Taverner was ‘master of the choristers’ of Christ Church, Oxford – then known as Cardinal College – and today’s choir maintains the original constitution of 16 boys and 12 men. Surprisingly, this is the first recording of the Mass to use all-male, rather than mixed, voices.

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Stephen Darlington gives majestic shape to this monumental work, effectively drawing out the imperturbable tread of the ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ cantus firmus. The choir produces a sound of blistering intensity – aptly so for such an opulent festal Mass – but the seraphic writing and long-breathed lines present a real challenge and at times the singers show the strain: their tendency to turn on a rapidly bleating vibrato interferes with the purity of the polyphony and the intonation sours at more exposed moments. But there are beautiful things here, too, notably the intimate solo-voice singing in the Credo and the candid sound of treble Gregory Bannan. Kate Bolton