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Allegri: Miserere; Palestrina / Phillips, Tallis Scholars

Release Date: 03/20/2007 
Label:  Gimell   Catalog #: 41   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gregorio AllegriGiovanni Palestrina
Conductor:  Peter Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tallis Scholars
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ALLEGRI Miserere (2 versions). PALESTRINA Missa Papae Marcelli. Stabat mater. Tu es Petrus à 6 Peter Phillips, dir; The Tallis Scholars GIMELL 41 (76:05 & )

The psalm and the Mass were heard on the Tallis Scholars’s first recording (7:3; CD in 9:6), recently reissued once more, and with the Stabat Read more mater were made again in “Live in Rome,” recorded and filmed at St. Mary Major in Rome on the 400th anniversary of Palestrina’s death (18:3). Now, after hundreds of concert performances in over 25 years, Phillips has presented a mature interpretation of the two favorite works. The Allegri, despite numerous recordings by similar ensembles, is a signature work of theirs, and this is an outstanding presentation. The singing is of the ultimate assurance, and the engineering distinguishes the spatial arrangement even better than before. Most of all, the work is sung again at the end of the program in a more elaborately embellished version that Deborah Roberts has tried out repeatedly in concert. Embellishment was always the key to this work (I have recordings directed by Theobald Schrems and Bernhard Klebel that have no ornamentation, and one by Gerhard Weinberger that has no high Cs). In the second rendition, she embellishes the vocal line even more at each repetition, and the successive melodic lines are printed in the text. Another lovely feature of both versions is the tonus peregrinus psalm tone, which, we are told, soloist Andrew Carwood just happened to introduce. While this tone, which has a different reciting note for the second half of each verse, has only been used for the psalm In exitu Israel at Sunday Vespers, I find it more suitable in this context than the usual mode 2 tone always heard until now in this work.

The major work remains the Palestrina Mass, by common estimate the composer’s masterpiece. I once heard it sung at a pontifical Mass in Aachen cathedral, an unforgettable experience at a time when the choir of men and boys was at their peak under Rudolf Pohl. My longtime favorite recorded version came from Westminster cathedral in London (11:6), sweeping a crowded field. This mixed vocal ensemble with two voices to a part makes a different effect than a choir, especially since the cathedral uses boys as trebles and altos. Yet the Tallis Scholars were magnificent in their “Live in Rome” performance, and this version reflects that achievement and the intervening concert performances as well.

Of the two fillers, Stabat mater is widely regarded as Palestrina’s finest motet, Set for two four-voice choirs, it was a late, mature work that showed his awareness of the Venetian style. Tu es Petrus is a six-voice work that furnished the basis for a Mass by the composer (both motet and Mass were recorded by the the King’s College Choir and others). Altogether, this is a well-filled disc of multi-voiced polyphony, an achievement that reminds us of the group’s long line of successes. No one will be disappointed by this disc.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber

We could spend a lot of time discussing comparisons between the Tallis Scholars' original, now-classic 1980 recording of the Allegri Miserere and Palestrina Missa Papae Marcelli (not to mention the group's landmark 1994 performances in Rome at the Santa Maria Maggiore), or we could get to the point--that these are distinctly different renditions, both in terms of recording perspective and interpretation, performances that stand on their own artistically and in the context of the development of early music scholarship. Most importantly, if you want to hear Palestrina sung by a choir that can claim unrivalled authority in the repertoire, look no further than the Tallis Scholars' catalog, and especially regarding the well-loved and oft-recorded Missa Papae Marcelli. And as for the Allegri--what choir can boast more than 300 performances of this legendary piece, most with the same soprano, Deborah Roberts, so effortlessly and accurately tossing off all of those high-Cs?

I have to admit that I was present for the Tallis Scholars' performances in Rome commemorating the 400th anniversary of Palestrina's death, and I only bring this up to emphasize that it wasn't for no reason that this choir was chosen to highlight such an important event: with its long experience interpreting sacred Renaissance music, especially Palestrina's, this unquestionably was the ensemble that most clearly and expertly could convey the composer's style and his music's substantial, profoundly spiritual aspects.

This new recording, made in the same Merton College venue as those 1980 sessions, offers a decidedly closer perspective, allowing a degree of prominence to individual voices and making the ensemble seem smaller and less "blended". The presence of the voices is at once more immediate than before, but it's also more demanding of the listener--that is, more "edge of the seat" than "sit back and relax". Tempos vary from slower in the Miserere to faster in parts of the Mass--an effect most notable in the Agnus Dei, where the slower 1980 version packs so much more emotional punch. Having lived with both versions of the Miserere and Missa for a long time, I find the earlier, more distantly-recorded, less fussily-detailed performances to be more satisfying. But having said that, if you don't have the earlier version handy for comparison, you quickly accept the close-up sound of the new recording, whose immediacy and clarity lend an excitement you don't experience from the earlier effort.

And then there's the second performance of the Allegri that concludes this new program, featuring Deborah Roberts' own embellishments (which are painstakingly reproduced in the liner notes), devised during years of experience performing the work. This is the sort of thing that recordings are made for, and the result is not only eminently satisfying but continues a tradition that dates back to Mozart's precocious transcription of the piece from memory after one hearing. Aficionados of the Allegri also will notice a change in the chant interludes: instead of the traditional "Tone 2" chant, in this new version cantor Andrew Carwood decided to intone the "Tonus Peregrinus", as it was discovered to be parodied in the work's high soprano choral part--an ingenious and very effective interpolation.

I never thought I'd say this, but I very much prefer the Tallis Scholars' 1980 analog recording of the two big works, for its warmth and, yes, sensuality; but for today's listeners, who may prefer a brighter, more up-front sound, this new recording will be immediately appealing. And the new Deborah Roberts Allegri embellishments are certainly worth hearing--and will hold up to repeated listening at least for the next couple of centuries, until the next re-interpreter comes along. [2/21/2007]

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Miserere mei Deus: Miserere mei by Gregorio Allegri
Conductor:  Peter Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tallis Scholars
Period: Baroque 
Written: 17th Century; Italy 
Missa "Papae Marcelli" by Giovanni Palestrina
Conductor:  Peter Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tallis Scholars
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1567; Italy 
Stabat Mater by Giovanni Palestrina
Conductor:  Peter Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tallis Scholars
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; Italy 
Miserere mei Deus: Miserere mei by Gregorio Allegri
Conductor:  Peter Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tallis Scholars
Period: Baroque 
Written: 17th Century; Italy 
Notes: This performance includes additional embellishments by Deborah Roberts.  

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