Tallis Spem in Alium
This new CD hails The Sixteen’s Siver Jubilee, and was planned to be a bumper recording with its title, Music for Monarchs and Magnates. The number of singers was more than doubled for Tallis’s 40-part motet, with a further 20 instrumentalists, sackbutts and cornetts, viols and organ all playing their part. The Monarchs and Magnates were chiefly James I and his eldest son, Henry, though the time scale takes us back to Elizabethan times, and forward to the Civil War.
Spem in alium introduces the programme (with top As much in evidence) and its contrafactum Sing and glorify (only up to Gs this time) brings it to a close. There is much variety in between, with Byrd’s subtle use of several verses of a Latin psalm in Deus venerunt gentes to highlight and mourn the execution in 1581 of Edmund Campion, followed by Know you not by Thomas Tomkins, a moving English verse anthem lamenting the death of Prince Henry in 1612, with parts added by Harry Christophers for sackbutts and cornetts. These splendid instruments make their appearance in several items, notably in Great King of Gods by Orlando Gibbons, sung during James I’s state progress to Edinburgh in 1617. Unfortunately, the instruments tended too often to mask the solo voices in the verse sections. My favourite piece was O God, the heathen are come, newly reconstructed by John Milsom and brilliantly sung with the better-balanced accompaniment of viols.