WORKS: Missa Puer natus est nobis; Magnificat; Ave Dei patris filia
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
CATALOGUE NO: 454 934-2
Tallis’s Missa Puer natus est nobis was most likely written for Christmas 1554, when Mary Tudor (recently married to Philip II of Spain) was thought to be pregnant. Intended as it was to celebrate their political and romantic union as well as the birth of Christ, the Mass is one of the most monumental and elaborate works of its age, though it survives incomplete. It has been painstakingly reconstructed (but still missing its Credo), and recently recorded by two of our finest choirs.
The Tallis Scholars are now in their 26th year, and their impeccable clarity and intonation can almost be taken for granted. Here, Peter Phillips directs a supple and fluid account of the Mass, and the recording is detailed, if slightly clinical. The other recent version is on a disc of music for Philip II and Mary Tudor by Harry Christophers’s choir, The Sixteen. Theirs is both musically and acoustically a far more spacious performance: long-breathed lines in a resounding space. The effect is all-engulfing and profoundly affecting – even those who find Tudor polyphony ‘inexpressive’ may be moved.
The Gimell disc includes another recently reconstructed work by Tallis – his antiphon Ave Dei patris filia. Phillips shapes the stratospheric writing of this powerful work to a dazzling climax. But if it’s notes per pound you’re after, The Sixteen wins, offering a generous 75 minutes of music from an empire ‘on which the sun never set’. Kate Bolton