Tallis: Lamentations

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LABELS: Bene Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Tallis Lamentations
WORKS: Lamentations; plus Medieval Chant
PERFORMER: Tenebrae Consort


This recording of Tallis’s Lamentations for Maundy Thursday is prefaced by various chants for Holy Week. Oddly, though, the chants are taken from the service of Compline which marks the end of the monastic working day, whereas the polyphonic Lamentations belong to Matins, so the polyphony is not embedded in a relevant complete service.


Next there is a problem about how we should listen to these chants. The monotone lines, presented in a dry but clear acoustic, reflect the routine performances of a church service, and there are even stretches of recorded silence for the private recital of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. Moreover, every sub-clause of the chanted words is followed by a little gap (even when the sense runs over), and only occasionally do we catch a bat’s squeak of excitation (as in the antiphon O Rex gloriose at the words ‘Ut tergant miseras’). The truth is that these utterances are designed for religious participation and not musical appreciation – though some will find opportunities here for contemplative experiences. By contrast, the performance of Tallis’s Lamentations is majestically dark and intense, displaying this group’s famous sensitivity toward musical structure, as well as their exquisite harmonic control (as at ‘Daleth’ in the second Lamentation). Only the vibrato in the lower voices detracts occasionally from the textural unity. Anthony Pryer