Alongside the high-octane professional choirs who have recorded so much sixteenth-century church music over the last decade, the Christ Church Choir of 1979 can sound rather feeble. Boys without the control of line or expression that now seems expected, wayward intonation, rough entries and troublesome passagework; lurching dynamics; and, on top of all that, a muddy, misty recorded sound.
So it may be worth remembering that the ensemble come as close as we know to that of choirs in the English cathedrals of the sixteenth century; that—to use the vocabulary of people who review classical music—this is the original-instrument performance, whereas the professional choirs are closer to the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and that the misty sound is in fact more or less what you would hear if you were sitting in a cathedral as a member of the congregation.
Actually, some of these performances are rough by any standards. The singers get pretty lost in Weelkes's When David heard—which it is easy enough to do, but the performance shouldn't really have been passed for a recording. Haec dies and Weelkes's Hosanna to the Son of David include some horrific articulation and the music is rather destroyed with heartiness. Much of it sounds as though the invitation to record a few popular pieces to go along with the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems hardly scemed to merit the allotment of any special rehearsals.
Still, like them or not, these performances are lively and attractive, sometimes rather more so than the antiseptic readings that more hard-bitten professionals can produce. and occasionally—as in Tomkins's When David heard, Tallis's Salvator mundi and Parson's Ave Maria—they sound very good as well.'