WORKS: Western Wind Masses
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
CATALOGUE NO: CDGIM 027 DDD
A new release from The Tallis Scholars is always welcome, particularly when they are performing their speciality: the music of Renaissance England.
The Western Wind Masses are the English equivalent to the L’homme armé Mass tradition so popular in France during the 15th century. Both titles refer to the secular, indeed rather bawdy, songs used by composers as a basis for their Mass settings. But, whereas ‘L’homme armé’ is a rather irregular, bumpy tune, ‘Western wind’ is beautifully melodic and graceful – qualities put to good use in these Masses.
John Taverner, master of the choristers at Christ Church, Oxford, in the 1520s, was the first to write a Western Wind Mass. In his setting, the song’s characteristic descending scale motifs are quite easily discernible, and around them he weaves relaxed, flowing counterpoint. The Tye and Sheppard settings use similar methods, though their works are by no means slavish copies of Taverner’s original.
The Tallis Scholars perform in their usual precise, balanced manner. The natural flow of the music is followed, without allowing the underlying pulse to slacken. Sections for solo voices (so often the places where lesser choirs come unstuck) are well sung, and the wonderful uplifting effect as the full choir returns is not spoilt by too much clamour. As ever, the sound is glorious. Edward Kershaw