Thomas Tallis was destined, as the old Chinese curse puts it, to live in interesting times. Luckily, for him and for us, he defied fate and kept his head joined to the rest of his body through many of England’s religious troubles. Andrew Carwood and his expert singers have produced an engaging program of works that reflect both the liturgical and musical diversity of the period.
At the centre of this disc is the imposing seven-voice Missa Puer natus est, which seems to have been written in the reign of Mary Tudor. While being based on the cantus firmus of the plainsong introit for Christmas, its lack of a high treble part and solo sections attest to the composer’s ability to adapt his craft to available forces (in this case, Philip II’s Chapel Royal).
On the other side of the ecclesiastical ledger, we are given a sonorous setting for lower voices of the Benedictus (Blessed be the Lord God of Israel) to be sung at Mattins according to Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. A Latin Magnificat (probably Tallis’s earliest surviving work) makes a fascinating contrast not only with the plainer English setting but with his later Catholic works.
Two well crafted hymn settings (Salvator mundi, Domine and Quod chorus vatum) are overshadowed by two more ornate responsories, Audivi vocem and the magnificent Videte miraculum. Carwood’s lively choral sound (which avoids the bland homogeneity of some English groups) makes for satisfying listening.