WORKS: Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Videte miraculum; O sacrum convivium
PERFORMER: St Catharine’s College Chapel Choir, Cambridge/Alexander Ffinch
CATALOGUE NO: PRCD 727
Firstly, a caveat. If you don’t like your Tallis slow and full of old-fashioned luxuriant piety, then this disc isn’t for you. Alexander Ffinch, director of the Choir of St Catharine’s College, does, and unrepentantly. The singing is good by the standards of a university choir, though occasionally it lacks the ultimate degree of finesse, and sometimes the phrasing could be arched more gracefully. But the students relish the expressive power of Tallis’s part-writing and all voice departments sound well in the resonant acoustic.
The disc includes some of Tallis’s finest works – the beautiful ‘Salvator mundi, salva nos’ and ‘O sacrum convivium’ settings from the 1575 Cantiones sacrae collection, the responds ‘Loquebantur variis linguis’, ‘In pace in idipsum’ and ‘Audivi vocem’, a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis seemingly composed as a pair. The collection’s title comes, however, from that of another respond, ‘Videte miraculum’. It’s one of Tallis’s most expressive masterpieces, composed for the Feast of the Purification. Here I feel Ffinch’s indulgent pedestrianism goes a degree too far, disrupting the sense of melodic flow and conspiring against the poetic alignment of word and idea. One instance: the appropriately perfumed setting of the word ‘aromata’. In all, it’s disappointing. For preference I’d reach for either Harry Christophers and The Sixteen in a mixed Christmas recital on Hyperion, or my benchmark choice, Alastair Dixon’s recent version with La Chapelle du Roi on Signum. Dixon uses a smaller team, and his reading is thus more precise, more intimate, and more appropriately expressive. What’s more, the work comes in the fourth volume in a projected complete Tallis cycle and includes three other pieces in common with this recital. Stephen Pettitt