Tallis: Spem in alium; Lamentations; Mass for Four Voices; Motets

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WORKS: Spem in alium; Lamentations; Mass for Four Voices; Motets
PERFORMER: Magnificat/Philip Cave
This disc celebrates Tallis’s early career in Catholic establishments, reflecting the penchant he acquired for Latin music during that time. Philip Cave and Magnificat are up against stiff competition in this repertoire from the likes of the Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen. And, although these groups share much the same personnel, issues of pitch and tempo create an often crucial difference of emphasis.


By performing Spem in alium a tone higher than the written pitch, for instance, The Sixteen’s expanded forces bring heightened brilliance and linear clarity to its complex monumental design. Magnificat’s fine sense of structure and warmly communicative account, by contrast, falls short of the hypnotically ethereal quality achieved by their rivals. In ‘Te lucis ad terminum’, meanwhile, their slower tempo and carefully shaped phrasing sounds static beside The Sixteen’s lively, smooth flowing version.

However, Magnificat’s comparatively coarse-grained and dark-hued texture suits the mood of the Lamentations well, delivering the exhortation for Jerusalem’s conversion with moving and sombre solemnity. Preference for this or The Sixteen’s altogether brighter and eloquently persuasive alternative will be a matter of personal taste.


In general, Cave’s perceptive interpretations and firm direction of his singers capture the spirit of this music effectively. Excellent recordings present the contrapuntal detail with vivid presence, heightening Tallis’s crunchy false-relations to illuminate, for example, the agony of the crucifixion in ‘Salvator mundi’. Magnificat’s well-focused ensemble elsewhere stirs spiritual thoughts in ‘O salutaris hostia’ and ‘Miserere’ and simple reverence in ‘In iejunio et fletu’ and Tallis’s beautifully restrained four-part Mass. Nicholas Rast