Early Music Society of Vancouver

The Tallis Scholars

Date 5 December 2005 at 20.00 Venue The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts Reviewer June Heywood

Taverner Dum transisset Sabbatum Taverner Leroy Kyrie Tallis Missa Puer natus (Gloria, Sanctus & Benedictus, Agnus Dei) Tallis Suscipe quæso, Domine Tallis O sacrum convivium Tallis Lamentations I Byrd Ave verum corpus Byrd Tribue, Domine

Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars' voices are sublime.
In this 500th-anniversary year of their namesake, Thomas Tallis, under the direction of conductor Peter Phillips, the ten-member a capella ensemble performed to a packed house.

Also on the programme was sacred music by Tallis' English contemporaries - John Taverner and William Byrd. All three composers had distinct styles that reflected their spiritual beliefs in times of "profound religious changes and political uncertainties."

The programme began with Taverner's "Dum transisset Sabbatum ," telling how Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. From the first notes the voices were rich and pure. Throughout the performance, the diction was clear. The audience sat rapt during the Leroy "Kyrie" that brought out moving harmonies as the singers begged for mercy.
Tallis's Missa Puer natus est nobis (Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei) filled the remainder of the first half of the programme. The dynamics and counterpoint were refined, minimalist, and just glorious.

For thirty years, Conductor Phillips has studied, performed, and taught sixteenth-century music. The Tallis Scholars reflect his "refined approach." In his Vancouver Sun review, David Brown Duke reports that the singers', "range of dynamics is precisely scaled to the nature of the music" and that they "create their magic not through superficial effects but through flawless ensemble, impeccable balance, and utterly astonishing tuning."

The second half of the programme began with three more compositions by Tallis - "Suscipe quaeso," "O sacrum convivium," and "Lamentations I." The level of concentration was deep. The bass voices, especially in the first piece, were superb. Each of the singers had either a solo or a duet. There was a male and female alto, four sopranos, two tenors, and two basses. The sorrowful emotion expressed in "Lamentations" made it unnecessary to follow the excellent programme notes in English. The anguish came through in the rising and falling of the singers' voices as they sang in Latin.

The best of the programme was saved until last. Byrd's Tribue, Domine began almost as a round. The textures within the music were refined and sincere in their expressions of praise, hope, and glory.

In response to the roars of approval from the audience, the Scholars and Conductor Phillips returned for an encore. A Baroque Dutch Christmas piece was chosen to conclude the performance. But Sweelink's "Hodie Christus natus est" couldn't compare with Byrd's exceptional music and the "profound and hidden power in (his) sacred words."

© 2005 June Heywood