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John Taverner - Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas and Magnificats

"I chose to celebrate our 40th year with Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas because I believe it to be one of the greatest compositions ever to have been written in England - a perfect ambassador for the repertoire we have made our own. It is also spectacularly difficult to sing. I felt there was no better piece to show-case what The Tallis Scholars have achieved in their 40 years of dedication to polyphony: a summation of Taverner's art as well as our own." Peter Phillips


Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas

Magnificat for four voices

Magnificat for five voices

Magnificat for six voices

The Tallis are well worth a Mass*         Choc de Classica

One couldn’t hope for a more beautiful recording from the Tallis Scholars to celebrate their 40th year, touching and other worldly from beginning to end. For this 'anniversary' recording, marking their 40 years, the Tallis Scholars have chosen to return to Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, already recorded by them nearly 30 years ago. This particularly rich composition, which according to Peter Phillips illustrates the quintessence of the English renaissance repertoire, captivates its listeners from the very first moment, before delivering ever greater fascination at each successive hearing. The twisting, fascinating melodies; the daring use of time-changes; the fullness of part-writing which is both dense and drawn-out at the same time, is all deeply impressive.

The music itself puts its interpreters through some taxing technical hoops, most notably the high voices who have an unusually wide range. But without any question a comparison of the two versions of this work made by the Tallis Scholars must come down in favour of this one: clearer, more fluid, with a real gain in rhythmic precision alongside a maturer understanding of how the phrases lie. In fact the most remarkable aspect of this latest recording is the way the ensemble breathes as if it is one person, their collective energy harnessed and controlled, which is particularly noticeable in those sections of the writing where Taverner draws out the lines with his extraordinary ability to convey spaciousness.

The plainchant melody which the mass is based on isn’t sung here in its monodic version; but it can be found written into the innermost workings of the polyphony. And it is a real pleasure to follow the unfolding of this cantus firmus: to recognise it when it is hidden in the heart of the polyphony, most obviously at the beginning of each of the movements, and then to hear it when it is on the surface and more audible, as at the beginning of the Qui tollis and Benedictus. Here Taverner entrusts it initially to the basses before the other voices take it over, in a seemingly inexhaustible web of filigree detail.

Editor's Note:
* this is a reference to Henry IV of Navarre’s conversion to Catholicism. In order to become King of France he had to renounce his Protestantism, saying that "Paris was well worth a Mass".

Guillaume Bunel

Classica (France)

The 16th-century composer John Taverner, whose music can whip up even greater ecstasy than his near namesake, John Tavener, especially in his Mass settings.

For their 40th anniversary disc, Peter Phillips's peerless Tallis Scholars present his mighty Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas. Phillips calls it one of the greatest works ever written in England, and I'm not going to disagree. Here are 41 minutes of luxurious, intricate six-part vocal writing, topped by two sopranos, flying the extremities of their range with a security, purity and silvery gleam that is absolutely breathtaking. Can these people, Janet Coxwell and Amy Haworth, really be human?

The beauty and daring of Taverner's vocal writing has few peers, from any country or century. Smaller but still potent delights arrive in three Magnificat settings, each crowned with a final cadence thrillingly approached as if it was the peak of Everest. 

Geoff Brown

Performance 5*  -  Recording 5*

It would be hard to think of a more fitting work to celebrate The Tallis Scholars' 40th Anniversary than Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, a towering monument of 16th-century English polyphony that showcases the ensemble's singers, from the soaring sopranos to the sepulchral basses. With its wide-ranging vocal registers and long-breathed polyphonic lines, the Mass demands an extraordinary degree of virtuosity as well as intense concentration and stamina throughout its 40 or so minutes.

This performance is characterised by the Scholars' precision and sheer beauty of sound. The stratospheric treble line (sung here by female voices) dominates the texture, occasionally at the expense of the lower parts, but the lingering effect is seraphic.

The CD also includes Taverner's three settings of the Magnificat; the two that survive incomplete have been convincingly reconstructed here. The choral virtuosity does not let up - the six-voice setting, in particular, is a real tour de force with its intricate, spiralling lines. Peter Phillips imbues these readings of Mary's canticle with a responsive mix of joy, reverence and humility, qualities that have characterised his direction through four decades of glorious music making.

Kate Bolton

BBC Music Magazine

To mark the 40th anniversary of their first concert, in St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, the Tallis Scholars have recorded one of the greatest Renaissance works, Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, whose setting of "in nomine" in the Benedictus has had unparalleled influence on composers right up to today. It is fascinating to retrace those words as they unfold here, with their uncanny power and a magical translucency lent by the Tallis Scholars to all the items. Their approach is both svelte and sublime. An almost tangible compactness of polyphony, however soaring, is allied to impeccable "white" purity of sound, with ecstatic results.

Paul Driver

The Sunday Times

... it's a thrilling sound ... you can see why Peter Phillips choose the Taverner for the occasion, it's a great display piece for the ensemble ... on their own terms in this Taverner Mass and the 3 Magnificats settings that follow The Tallis Scholars are unsurpassed.

You can hear the review at 26:30 minutes into the programme at:

Andrew McGregor

BBC Radio 3 CD Review

 This is an exceptionally fine disc. The music itself is compellingly interesting and Peter Phillips and his marvellously disciplined singers bring the music to life in a most exciting way. This is virtuoso music and The Tallis Scholars are equal to every challenge posed by the composer. One is left in awe that Taverner wrote music so full of teeming invention and technical skill, yet it all sounds so inevitable - at least, it does when sung with the skill and assurance of The Tallis Scholars. The presentational side of the production is up to Gimell’s usual immaculate standards. Engineer Philip Hobbs, a regular collaborator with the ensemble, has captured the performances in splendid sound which is clear and reports the natural resonance of Merton College Chapel extremely well. As usual, Peter Phillips’ notes are scholarly yet lively and eminently readable.

This is a fitting recording with which to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of this remarkable ensemble. Peter Phillips and the singers who have worked with him over the last four decades have made an incalculable contribution to the upsurge in interest in Renaissance polyphony in that time - though, as he makes clear in the aforementioned book their work has often been anything but plain sailing. The recorded legacy of The Tallis Scholars is already rich and full but one hopes there is much more to come in the future. So, in congratulating the group on forty years of dedicated music-making it’s also appropriate to say ad multos annos!

John Quinn

Today 40 years ago, the Tallis Scholars gave their first concert, at once changing the face of British choral singing by their rigour and impeccable musicianship.

This disc has been released to coincide with that anniversary. The Tallis's founder and director, Peter Phillips, compares John Taverner's masterpiece of the English Renaissance, the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, with the beauty of a Britten opera, an Elgar symphony or a Purcell anthem. It's hard to disagree. The mass, in six parts, makes huge demands on the singers – all in effect having to behave as soloists – and the emphasis as ever with the Tallis Scholars, is on clarity, precision, continuity of line.

Fiona Maddocks

The Observer, 3 November 2013

 “Chalk and cheese” is how Peter Phillips described the programme he and his choir the Tallis Scholars presented in Wednesday’s late Prom. But was this apt? We know what a real chalk-and-cheese Prom is like. We had one just the other day, when Vaughan Williams and Nishat Khan appeared side-by-side, to their mutual discomfort. Compared with that, this was more like slices of Roquefort interspersed with Cheshire. What we heard were the four movements of the Gloria Tibi Trinitas Mass by the early 16th century English composer John Taverner, alongside three motets in praise of the Virgin by the somewhat later Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo.

The Gesualdo pieces, with their aromatic harmonies and overtly expressive ambience, were the Roquefort. Taverner, with his aloof, white purity of sound, was the Cheshire. But the metaphor won’t quite do. In his own way Taverner is every bit as highly flavoured as Gesualdo, but his exoticism is achieved via the different route of an ever-changing weave of voices. The vocal lines burgeon outwards in such long arches you wonder whether they’ll ever come to rest (“like a Gothic arch” said Phillips during his chat with presenter Catherine Bott).

As for Gesualdo, there’s a rapt intensity which comes from restraint. The unexpected leaps of mode throw open a door onto new expressive territory, but Gesualdo draws back from it.

Conveying intensity through restraint is what the Tallis Scholars have been doing so wonderfully these past 40 years. At this concert, which marked both the 40th anniversary of the choir and the 400th anniversary of Gesualdo’s death, they absolutely excelled themselves. The rapt, unbelievably high soaring of the sopranos in Taverner’s Mass was uncanny. You could hardly believe it emanated from mortal throats.

But everyone shared the honours. The tiny pauses between the repeated “Oh Maria” in Gesualdo’s Ave, dulcissima Maria were filled with electricity, the overlapping scale patterns in Taverner’s Gloria were both luminously clear, like the outline of a saint in a fresco, and wrapped up in the body of sound.

As Phillips would be the first to admit, the focus on these two extremes of Renaissance music left a vast area untouched. In the encore, a beautiful performance of John Sheppard’s Libera nos, salva nos, he and the Tallis Scholars gave a glimpse of what treasures lie there. It was the final wonder in a Prom that was full of them.

Ivan Hewett

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