This offering of Tallis’s motets reflects the changing demands on composers during the English Reformation. Henry VIII’s spurning of Catholicism in 1534, along with the taste of the early Reformation leader Thomas Cranmer, had a handsome effect on the composition of sacred vocal music. A syllabic, non-melismatic approach to word-setting was favoured – a trend reflected here in the blazing Mass for Four Voices.
This music is full of striking harmonic effects; false relations abound! The spidery conclusion of In Manus Tuas, Domine is deftly handled: artful elegance applied to such dissonances gives the ear time to absorb the harmonic logic. Occasional intonation slips are just noticeable: a sharp soprano in the opening notes of Wipe Away My Sins, reaffirms her sharp inclinations in the otherwise sublime Miserere Nostri.
The Cardinall’s Musick takes a rather reserved approach to the music, utterly appropriate to the style. Well-judged, vigorous singing flares up in the Gloria from the Mass for Four Voices. In that work, incredibly stellar chordal writing is intelligently balanced: a clear hierarchy in chordal notes is reflected in the tuning and volume of each note. As though a road map is placed in front of the listener, each phrase is sung with a personality indicating its function in the whole.