TALLIS Missa Puer natus est nobis
The first recording of Tallis’s Missa Puer natus est nobis dates from 2001 – a result not of neglect but of incomplete manuscripts. Since its rediscovery, though, the Mass has been well served, first by The Tallis Scholars and then by Chapelle du Roi, America’s Handel and Haydn Society Chorus and Stile Antico. Now The Cardinall’s Musick, fresh from their Gramophone Award-winning Byrd Edition, have turned their attention to the complete vocal works of Tallis and to his Christmas Mass.
This third disc in the series showcases the many musical faces of a chameleon-composer capable of keeping his footing (and his head) through turbulent religious times. We move from a pre-Reformation alternatim Magnificat a 4, vivid and sensitive but still an apprentice piece, to the sophisticated counterpoint of the responsory Videte miraculum, and of course the seven-voice Mass itself – a festal cantus firmus Mass of huge scale, probably composed during Mary I’s reign.
Oddly, despite its thick and unusual vocal distribution, there are no verse sections. Singers must create their own light and shade, particularly in the Sanctus, where the music enters a meditative harmonic stasis. Where The Tallis Scholars achieve this organically, aided by the silvered clarity of their trebles, the darker, woodier voices of The Cardinall’s Musick too often settle into a dynamic and textural groove, failing to discover and articulate the smaller musical narratives among so many long lines.
The motets Salvator mundi and Videte miraculum offer perhaps the best touchstones of what we can expect from the Tallis Edition. In ground this well trodden, The Cardinall’s Musick can’t quite find a foothold. Stile Antico are more emotionally charged, The Sixteen and Oxford Camerata clearer and cleaner. With a complete Tallis already available from Chapelle du Roi, The Cardinall’s Musick are going to have to make a more compelling case for their own series.