WORKS: Missa Corona spinea; Audivi vocem de caelo
PERFORMER: Choir of King’s College, London/David Trendell
CATALOGUE NO: PROU CD 149
The juxtaposition of Taverner and Byrd on one disc throws into high relief the stylistic changes over the half-century which divides them – Taverner was born c1490, Byrd in 1543. The Taverner Mass is the epitome of timeless florid counterpoint. Trendell’s notes (exceptionally helpful in directing the innocent ear before listening) mention fully 25 bars on a single opening syllable of the Agnus Dei, and much of the Mass is similarly spacious. Contrast comes mostly from the variety of registers: most strikingly, the second strain of the Agnus begins darkly with four-part men’s voices, then breaks out into ‘gymel’ – ‘twinning’ or dividing – of soprano and alto voices into a heavenly translucent sound.
But there are moments of almost expressionist gesture. In the Gloria, ‘filius Patris’ – ‘son of the Father’ – oscillates vividly between major and minor; a magical stillness interrupts the flow at ‘Jesu Christe’.
By contrast, Byrd seems almost breathlessly terse, not least in the opening ‘Laetentur caeli’, taken so energetically that even the agile voices of this young university choir are left scrambling for some of the most rhythmically snappy moments. Their tone is delightfully fresh, though light undergraduate basses in particular are occasionally hard-pressed to support the weight of Taverner’s six-part textures. George Pratt