Taverner Votive antiphons & Ritual Music
Taverner’s motets range in scale from gorgeous miniature in Audivi vocem to bumbling behemoth in the shape of the early, over-extended Ave Dei patris filia. The latter, like the presumably early Mass O Michael, suggests that, with Taverner, vaulting formal ambition came first and surefootedness later. The even lengthier Gaude plurimum is more assured, but of the three festal antiphons recorded here only O splendor gloriae truly balances extroversion and self-control. The shorter works, however, are uniformly accomplished: Mater Christi is near perfect in its shaping and David Skinner is right to praise Quemadmodum, whose extraordinary concision shows how far Taverner moved from the swashbuckling vigour of his youth.
This disc’s bookends, Quemadmodum and O spendor gloriae, featured on one of the greatest recordings of this repertory, brought out more than 20 years ago by the Taverner Consort and Choir for EMI (and sadly unavailable at present). Perhaps my perception has been unduly coloured by these readings but Alamire’s staid, almost reverent approach seems to me to miss the incisive quality I referred to earlier (and exemplified more recently in the Taverner anthology from the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral – Delphian, 3/10). In the longer pieces it places something of a burden on the singers (especially the higher voices), who might more easily have beaten a way through the thickets of those long reduced sections with a slightly faster tempo. That said, Taverner’s successes are Alamire’s, in the main; only a stray artefact at 4'31" of Gaude plurimum ought to have been edited out. The singers respond in kind to the compact, reflective Mater Christi, and the two bookends mentioned earlier, though less often recorded, are vintage Taverner.