Missa Western Wind
The Tallis Scholars
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 19 October, 2016
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
The Tallis Scholars opened, and closed, with a William Byrd motet in show-stopping style. Laetentur caeli is a gorgeous hymn of praise predicting the coming of the Lord, with rising scales and runs handed from voice to voice in each of the five parts. Over forty years Peter Phillips’s Scholars have perfected the singing of 16th-century repertoire with a combination of unerring accuracy and a relaxed style for this fiendishly difficult music.
The earliest work here, John Taverner’s Missa Western Wind is based on a love-song popular at the court of Henry VIII. Such was its haunting power that Tye and Sheppard also used it as a basis for their Masses. In Taverner’s the melody is used as a framework throughout the movements, thirty-six times in all, a range of musical and emotional expression which is truly awe-inspiring. The opening of the ‘Sanctus’ provided a virtuoso moment for tenor Steven Harrold, with ornaments and elaborate syncopation.
The second half opened with a rarity from the Eton Choirbook, Salve regina by Richard Davy, music of extraordinary effect. Byrd’s Salve regina followed, meaning and melody forming one harmonious, devotional arc. Thomas Tallis’s Lamentation I piled on further sophisticated simplicity; the text may have had particular significance for Tallis, a Catholic, writing music for Elizabeth a Protestant monarch. Alfonso Ferrabosco was also a Catholic in Elizabeth’s service, as musician and possibly a spy. His Lamentations denote overwhelming sadness and despair for Zion with lovely dense textures, moving forward with conviction and drama: “I say to all: watch”.
Byrd’s Ye Sacred Muses was an encore, his elegy for his friend and mentor Tallis. Grief was never so beautifully expressed.