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Perfect Polyphony - Peter Phillips' favourite recordings of Renaissance polyphony.

"When I conducted my first concert with The Tallis Scholars in 1973 I could not have imagined that we would go on to perform concerts all around the world, or that millions of people would regularly listen to our recordings. We have had the happy chance to explore deep into Renaissance polyphony: here are some of the gems that have thrilled me over the years." Peter Phillips

This album is designed to complement The Essential Tallis Scholars, together they offer over five hours of recordings with no duplications.


In celebration of the Tallis Scholars's 2000th concert on September 21, 2015, Gimell has released this two-disc set of compositions that according to Peter Phillips, "have thrilled me over the years." In other words, this is yet another "greatest hits" release with the premise being the founding conductor's favorite moments from what by any measure has been an astoundingly productive, informative, and musically impeccable career.

I have said it before - there is no period choral group that has consistently produced as many important and enlightening discs as the Tallis Scholars, and as far as I am concerned, they still lead the pack in setting standards even though their initial appearance has inspired a plethora of ensembles following in their footsteps. Without them, the progress of early music knowledge and performance would have been far less impressive.

The recordings range from the 1987 Gesualdo to the Des Prez from 2011, and no real surprises with perhaps the exception of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Alfonso Ferrabosco (1542-88), obviously a very personal choice of Peter Phillips, as the others are no mystery to most early music aficionados. Nothing has been remastered (the sound was always state of the art even way back when) and the choral work is nothing short of miraculous, especially considering the turnover the group has seen over the years, surely a testament to Phillip's exceptional abilities as mentor and conductor.    

Steven Ritter

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In September 2015 The Tallis Scholars will reach a tremendously impressive milestone when they give their 2,000th concert in London. Just as remarkable is the fact that all but a handful of those concerts have been directed by their founder, Peter Phillips. To mark the occasion Gimell has released this compilation of recordings, which is described as “Peter Phillips’ favourite recordings of Renaissance polyphony.” And since Phillips is the fons et origo of this remarkable – and remarkably consistent – vocal ensemble surely no one would begrudge him the right to make a personal selection from their recorded legacy to date.

The reasons behind each individual selection, which Phillips sets out in an introductory note, are very interesting. The Palestrina Mass, for instance, earns its place by right: it was the very first piece that the group recorded, way back in 1977. They’ve made three commercial recordings of it – one of which was one of the very few live recordings by The Tallis Scholars. The one that’s included here is the most recent one, their second studio recording. The collection is “book-ended” by another Mass setting, this time by Josquin. It’s right that this should be included because the group achieved their great breakthrough, winning a Gramophone Record of the Year award in 1987, with a disc of Josquin Masses (review), though the recording of this particular one was made some years later.

This compilation consists of back catalogue but that’s reflected in the advantageous price. Even collectors who have several Tallis Scholars CDs in their collection may well find something new to tempt them here – as I did in the case of the Isaac piece. If you’re coming fresh to Renaissance polyphony or to the work of this excellent ensemble then this new set is an ideal place to start. However, be warned: the purchase of Tallis Scholars recordings soon becomes addictive. 

John Quinn

 Phillips has chosen to celebrate the Tallis Scholars by compiling his favourite recordings from 40 years of their stellar performances of Renaissance polyphony. Appropriately, the disc begins with Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli, which also happens to be the very first piece the group ever recorded, and is followed by a lovely 1987 recording of Victoria's Versa est in luctum. Tackling Gesualdo's intense and harmonically challenging Ave, dulcissima Maria highlights the high level of precision these singers can execute. Particularly moving are the two sets of Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis, with Brumel and Ferrabosco's settings following. Repetition, however, is not an issue: each composer's treatment (and selection of text) is quite different. The opening of Josquin's Missa Ave maris stella is resplendent with purity of tone, particularly in the women's voices, and is lovely in its canonic pursuit from start to finish.

Reproduced with permission from WholeNote Magazine, Toronto.

Dianne Wells

Wholenote Magazine - Toronto

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