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Prepare to leave Planet Earth for the duration of Taverner’s Missa Corona spinea. Even the most diehard of the Tallis Scholars’ supporters who thought they’d heard everything by now will be bowled over by this astonishing performance of an astonishing work. Whatever the occasion of the Mass’s first performance – possibly an event at Wolsey’s Cardinal College, Oxford in front of Henry VIII – the choir must have been extraordinary. The Tallis Scholars – as we would expect – here keep this fiendishly difficult work under immaculate, apparently nerveless, control.

Most especially the thrills come from the high-wire act performed by the Scholars’ treble voices, Janet Coxwell and Amy Haworth. Great waves of sound that return the hackles on the back of one’s neck to those revelatory recorded performances from the Clerkes of Oxenford in the 1970s which for many were an introduction to the glories of soaring 16th-century English polyphony. As they say, it’s like falling in love all over again.

Every familiar Tallis Scholars trademark is here, of course – immaculate balance and clarity, perfect pacing and much else besides. If I were being over-greedy I might wish for a cathedral acoustic in which Missa Corona spinea could resound far above, but Merton College has served the Scholars wonderfully well and of course does so here. You have to feel for the two settings of Taverner’s Dum transisset Sabbatum which complete the album. Marvellous pieces both, but inevitably in the shadow of a towering masterpiece.

Andrew Green Read the full review on Agora Classica


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