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COMPOSERS: Byrd,Morley,Philips,Tallis,White
ALBUM TITLE: Vigilate!
WORKS: Works by Tallis, Philips, White, Byrd and Morley
PERFORMER: Monteverdi Choir/Sir John Eliot Gardiner


The 16th and 17th centuries were turbulent times in England. After the dissolution of the monasteries, for example, Tallis moved in the space of four years from Dover Priory, to Waltham Abbey, to Canterbury Cathedral, and then the Chapel Royal. His pupils and successors – from Byrd to Tomkins – existed uneasily between Catholic traditions and an intermittently Protestant state. ‘Vigilate’ (‘Be Watchful’) is exactly how they must have felt.

The works on this disc expose those liturgical struggles very clearly: they range from the exuberant, double-choir Ecce vicit in the full ‘Roman’ style by Philips, to the syllabic, ‘reformed’ setting of the hymn O nata lux by Tallis, to the English but ‘catholic’ polyphony of White’s six-voiced Lamentations. However, the major interest of these impressive performances is that they reflect the interpretative approaches developed by John Eliot Gardiner over decades of experience in many types of music. Of course he understands the restrained English choral approach (which he uses in White’s Christe qui lux), but he brings a Baroque exuberance to Byrd’s Laudibus in Sanctis, and his experience in theatre music frequently informs his treatment of the text (as when the cock crows in Byrd’s Vigilate, or at the word ‘peccavi’ – ‘we have sinned’ – in Tallis’s Suscipe quaeso). Most remarkably he sometimes ‘plays’ the choir with an almost pianistic subtlety of tone and articulation (Byrd’s Civitas sancti). The fairly large forces tend to produce an unusually robust sound for this repertory, though musicality is never lost.


Anthony Pryer