Recently Purchased: Cantiones Sacre 1575

Back in 1575, Thomas Tallis along with his friend and former pupil William Byrd collaborated on a project to celebrate the 17th year of reign for Elizabeth I.  Both were Gentlemen of the Chapel Royale, who were required not only to sing at the Queen’s church services, but also to compose music for the service.  Elizabeth had also given Tallis and Byrd the generous privilege of owning the monopoly of music printing in all of England.

To express how grateful they were for Her Majesty’s generosity, Tallis and Byrd decided to work together on a “thank you”/17th Anniversary gift.  This gift became a collection of pieces called Caniones Sacre or Sacred Songs.  This collaboration involved both composers writing 17 pieces each of sacred Catholic texts.  The final piece, “Miserere Nostri” by Tallis features a 17th note motive in various treatements.  While it wasn’t the commercial success they thought it was going to be, it became a hugely influential collection of works and one of the finest examples of compositions from this entire era of English music.

I was intrigued by this recording as it claims to be the first recording of the entire Cantiones Sacre in it’s entirety and original publication order.  Alamire, directed by David Skinner, has taken upon themselves a staggering challenge to record dozens of such collections in the next decade.  My main fear associated with this recording was this: “if they’re trying to get through so much music, wont the project turn out unpolished and rough?  Is this about just getting the material out there in any form?”

After my first listen, all fears melted away.  This is a top-notch ensemble with a great deal experience and sensitivity to phrasing, intonation and unity.  Most everything is recorded with one singer per part.  David Skinner knows exactly what he wants in each piece and has been able to communicate that to the singers.  Each line feels like it has a purpose and direction.  Each part is conscious of itself as well as the parts around it.  It’s a beautiful recording and definitely a must buy for anyone looking for some recordings of the English Renaissance (another great example is of the Tallis Scholars performing Byrd’s Three Masses.)

Here’s a recording of “In Ieiunio Et Fletu” by Tallis.  It’s what Skinner calls “a freak show,” with basses being asked to leap down to low Ds.  Well done Alamire and David Skinner.  I look forward to your future projects.

“In jejunio et fletu orabant sacerdotes:
Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo, et ne des hereditatem tuam in perditionem.
Inter vestibulum et altare plorabant sacerdotes, dicentes: Parce populo tuo.”

“In fasting and weeping the priests prayed:
Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and give not thine inheritance to perdition.
Between the porch and the altar the priests wept, saying: Spare thy people.”


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