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April 12, 2005

Rescuing Harmonies Lost to Time

New York Times (NY):

The Tallis Scholars, a British vocal ensemble that specializes in Renaissance music, performs so regularly in New York that it almost seems like a local group. That is not cause for complaint: the group's director, Peter Phillips, has not only created a supremely polished choir, but has also kept its repertory fluid and captivating by reviving obscure but worthy works to offset familiar staples. Given that even the best-known composers of the era remain only partly known to most listeners, Mr. Phillips has plenty to choose from in this regard, and it was mostly unfamiliar works by familiar composers that made up his program on Saturday evening, when he conducted the Tallis Scholars at Riverside Church. The performance was the final concert of the Miller Theater's early-music series this season.

The star of the program was Josquin Desprez, whose "Malheur me bat" Mass accounted for the first half of the program, with a magnificently serene motet, "Tu solus qui facis mirabilia," among the shorter works on the second half. In both works, Josquin borrowed a thematic kernel from a popular song and transformed it into a richly harmonized structure. In the Mass, that structure grows increasingly complex as the work progresses. The harmony in the Kyrie, for example, is beautiful but comparatively spare and compact, but by the end of the Credo, Josquin's text setting is more expansive and the interaction between the accented notes in each vocal line yields arresting rhythmic patterns. The motet, shorter and more sharply focused, was striking for its intensity.

The Tallis Scholars produced the impeccable blend and smooth flow that Josquin's music demands. They also gave seductively phrased accounts of a Magnificat by Nicolas Gombert, in which plainsong verses alternated with polyphonic settings, and William Byrd's short but rich "Tribulatio proxima est." The program also included motets by Loyset Compère, Philippe de Monteand Orlande de Lassus.

Posted by acapnews at April 12, 2005 12:31 AM