Tallis: Spem In Alium / The Sixteen

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This selection is a Hybrid Super Audio CD. The Stereo Hybrid SACD program can be played on any standard compact disc player. The DSD Surround and Stereo programs require an SACD player for playback.


Thomas Tallis' 40-voice motet Spem in alium (scored for eight five-part choirs) was composed some 400 years before the modern age of recordings, and perhaps it's a work that's best left for the experience of live performance. Granted, capturing this grand Renaissance experiment in sound and performance logistics (said to have been composed in response to a ducal challenge) is an irresistible temptation for choirs and record companies, most of whose attempts have resulted in something less than the imagined "wall of sound" effect promised by its sumptuous rich-textured, full-bodied scoring. But if you're going to record it, you might as well use whatever technical means are at your disposal to reproduce the wide vocal range, sonic depth, and pure physical sensation engendered by this huge concentration of vocal forces, which in the tutti passages is sort of like the choral equivalent of an all-stops-out cathedral organ.

Until now, the best version on disc was by The Tallis Scholars. Recorded nearly 20(!) years ago, it remains a top choice, absolutely stunning in coherence and cohesiveness, to say nothing of its firm balances and amazing sonic power. (Interestingly, but not surprisingly, many of the singers on that earlier disc appear here as well.) However, this new release from Coro goes even further in bringing us closer to the live experience and manages (remarkably) to capture even more interior detail of the massed vocal forces. Since this is not a work that delivers sound from a relatively focused source--it literally comes from all directions--a surround-sound SACD recording makes a lot of sense, and even though this review is based on listening to this "hybrid" on a standard CD player (the SACD-system review will follow), there's no question that the engineering and mastering techniques used were expertly done to maximize the music's strengths--and delivering it with more clarity and wide-ranging dynamic impact than ever before.

And that's only part of an extraordinary program that goes on to feature several more gems drawn from "a century of British history", including a convincing reconstruction of a Tomkins masterpiece (until recently unattributed) that's never before been recorded. The disc's subtitle, "Music for Monarchs and Magnates", sets the rationale for selections that highlight mostly larger-scale motets and anthems (and a sublime Te Deum by Tallis) composed for special, royal occasions, sometimes containing a not-too-subtle political commentary in their carefully-chosen Biblical texts. Byrd's rarely-heard Latin motet Deus venerunt is a 13-plus-minute disconcerted response to the execution of Jesuit priests, expressed in the words of a Psalm and in music that's deliberately refined and solemn--and gorgeous. Some of the works are accompanied by instruments--cornetts, sackbutts, viols--and the effect is always to the benefit of the music, surrounding and enhancing the voices with colors both bright and rich. Orlando Gibbons' Great King of Gods is a highlight among these latter pieces.

The disc closes with yet another performance of Spem in alium, this time in its English-text setting, "Sing and glorify". And who would complain about hearing this magnificent work again? As you might expect, the singing throughout is absolutely first-class--and with many of Britain's top performers on hand, combined with such exalted repertoire, we're treated to one of the choral events of the year, one that will remain a standard for more than its spectacular sound. (My only complaint: Coro continues its user-unfriendly practice of providing a straight track listing only on the outside of the CD box.

The disc closes with yet another performance of Spem in alium, this time in its English-text setting, "Sing and glorify". And who would complain about hearing this magnificent work again? As you might expect, the singing throughout is absolutely first-class--and with many of Britain's top performers on hand, combined with such exalted repertoire, we're treated to one of the choral events of the year, one that will remain a standard for more than its spectacular sound. (My only complaint: Coro continues its user-unfriendly practice of providing a straight track listing only on the outside of the CD box.)
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com


Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: CORSACD16016


  • UPC: 828021601620


  • Label: Coro


  • Composer: Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, William Byrd


  • Conductor: Harry Christophers


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: The Sixteen, The Symphony of Harmony and Invention