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Tallis: Spem In Alium / The Sixteen


Release Date: 01/01/2003 
Label:  Coro   Catalog #: 16016   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Thomas TallisOrlando GibbonsWilliam ByrdThomas Tomkins
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The SixteenThe Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Thomas Tallis' 40-voice motet Spem in alium (scored for eight five-part choirs) was composed some 400 years before the modern age of recordings, and perhaps it's a work that's best left for the experience of live performance. Granted, capturing this grand Renaissance experiment in sound and performance logistics (said to have been composed in response to a ducal challenge) is an irresistible temptation for choirs and record companies, most of whose attempts have resulted in something less than the imagined "wall of sound" effect promised by its sumptuous rich-textured, full-bodied scoring. But if you're going to record it, you might as well use whatever technical means are at your disposal
Read more to reproduce the wide vocal range, sonic depth, and pure physical sensation engendered by this huge concentration of vocal forces, which in the tutti passages is sort of like the choral equivalent of an all-stops-out cathedral organ.


Until now, the best version on disc was by The Tallis Scholars. Recorded nearly 20(!) years ago, it remains a top choice, absolutely stunning in coherence and cohesiveness, to say nothing of its firm balances and amazing sonic power. (Interestingly, but not surprisingly, many of the singers on that earlier disc appear here as well.) However, this new release from Coro goes even further in bringing us closer to the live experience and manages (remarkably) to capture even more interior detail of the massed vocal forces. Since this is not a work that delivers sound from a relatively focused source--it literally comes from all directions--a surround-sound SACD recording makes a lot of sense, and even though this review is based on listening to this "hybrid" on a standard CD player (the SACD-system review will follow), there's no question that the engineering and mastering techniques used were expertly done to maximize the music's strengths--and delivering it with more clarity and wide-ranging dynamic impact than ever before.


And that's only part of an extraordinary program that goes on to feature several more gems drawn from "a century of British history", including a convincing reconstruction of a Tomkins masterpiece (until recently unattributed) that's never before been recorded. The disc's subtitle, "Music for Monarchs and Magnates", sets the rationale for selections that highlight mostly larger-scale motets and anthems (and a sublime Te Deum by Tallis) composed for special, royal occasions, sometimes containing a not-too-subtle political commentary in their carefully-chosen Biblical texts. Byrd's rarely-heard Latin motet Deus venerunt is a 13-plus-minute disconcerted response to the execution of Jesuit priests, expressed in the words of a Psalm and in music that's deliberately refined and solemn--and gorgeous. Some of the works are accompanied by instruments--cornetts, sackbutts, viols--and the effect is always to the benefit of the music, surrounding and enhancing the voices with colors both bright and rich. Orlando Gibbons' Great King of Gods is a highlight among these latter pieces.


The disc closes with yet another performance of Spem in alium, this time in its English-text setting, "Sing and glorify". And who would complain about hearing this magnificent work again? As you might expect, the singing throughout is absolutely first-class--and with many of Britain's top performers on hand, combined with such exalted repertoire, we're treated to one of the choral events of the year, one that will remain a standard for more than its spectacular sound. (My only complaint: Coro continues its user-unfriendly practice of providing a straight track listing only on the outside of the CD box.) [11/22/2003]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Period: Renaissance 
Written: after 1559; England 
Language: English 
2.
O all true faithful hearts by Orlando Gibbons
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 17th Century; England 
Language: English 
3.
Deus, venerunt gentes by William Byrd
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1589; England 
Language: Latin 
4.
Know you not by Thomas Tomkins
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Language: English 
Notes: The score used for this performance was reconstructed by Peter James. The instrumental parts were realised by Harry Christophers. 
5.
Great King of Gods by Orlando Gibbons
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 17th Century; England 
Language: English 
6.
O God, the proud are risen against me by Thomas Tomkins
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Language: English 
Notes: The authenticity of this work is uncertain. The score was reconstructed by John Milsom. 
7.
Te deum by Thomas Tallis
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen,  The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; England 
Language: Latin 
Notes: This work was revised by John Milsom. 
8.
Be strong and of a good courage by Thomas Tomkins
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Language: English 

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