Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah; Mass for Four Voices
It is always very satisfying to hear an excellent ensemble performing a classic that all its members have known for years. The Hilliard Ensemble have Tallis's Lamentations in their blood, and they have a precise feeling for the place of every gesture in the broader form. The earlier sections are restrained, with the passion mounting only gradually towards the final paragraphs 20 minutes later. This is fluid, carefully modulated, limpid singing of considerable control and an astonishing clarity (particularly considering that they read the music as at modern concert pitch, resulting in some extremely low textures).
But the true novelty here—for there are several other fine recordings of the Lamentations—is the four-voice Mass, which is surely Tallis's least obviously impressive work. Much of it is in simple four-part chords with hardly any imitation or variety of texture; so it presents something of a challenge which the Hilliards accept with infectious enthusiasm. Rogers Covey-Crump injects his most immaculate expressiveness into the top line and all four singers add spice to the work by using an extremely broad (presumably historically informed) English pronunciation of the Latin. If they fall short of revealing a hidden masterpiece, they at least make me glad to be able to hear this unusual example of sixteenth-century minimalism.
The sound of the singers is extremely well caught, as is the acoustic of All Hallows Church, Hampstead, though some of the words could be clearer in view of the lack of texts on the sleeve. To make up for that, however, the liner notes consist of a vintage essay by Wilfrid Mellers who characteristically says nothing you would expect but throws fresh light on Tallis's nature.'