Tallis: Salve Intemerata

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Thomas Tallis
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Tallis: Salve Intemerata
WORKS: O Lord, give they Holy Spirit; Missa Salve Intemerata; Man blest no doubt; I call and cry to thee; If ye love me; etc
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood


In this recording The Cardinall’s Musick contrasts pre- with post-Reformation compositions by Tallis. Ingenuity abounds, but is evidenced more consistently in the disc’s programming than in its performances. The centrepiece is the five-part Missa Salve intemerata, whose motifs Tallis took from his votive antiphon Salve intemerata virgo, which is also featured.

In the antiphon, Tallis drew on pre-Reformation practices: meandering lines, slowly building textures and rhapsodic melodies which evoke the ecstasy of Marian devotion. The juxtaposition of Mass and antiphon illuminates the subtlety with which Tallis transformed these earlier practices for a world from which Marian devotion came to be banned. Abandoning melismatic for syllabic settings, Tallis used only the antiphon’s most pregnant motifs to create the Mass’s crisp polyphony. The anthems and psalm tunes strikingly show Tallis’s facility for reinvention: in this post-Reformation music terseness replaces pre-Reformation rhapsodising through the bold repetition of material.

In the anthems, particularly, the Cardinall’s Musick pulls the listener into Tallis’s splendid architecture, with perfect paragraphing and line shape. For the most part, though, it retains a poised distance, with the result that the stylistic contrasts between pre-and post-Reformation never clearly emerge. A welcome exception is the vocalists’ rustic swagger in the psalm tunes, but this is occasionally over-egged. This is a gorgeous disc which falls just short of its intellectual ambition.


Berta Joncus