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Thomas Tallis - Complete Works Box set
The complete works by this towering figure of British Renaissance music were issued in a previous boxed set-but that one was prohibitively expensive. This one is literally a third of the price, has all of the same acclaimed performances by the Chapelle du Roi (led by Alistair Dixon) and includes a CD-ROM featuring all the texts and set notes! You get all of Tallis's sacred choral works, organ works, instrumental pieces and songs: Ave Dei Patris Filia; Ave Rosa Sine Spinis; Mass "Salve Intemerta"; Magnificat and Nunc Dimit; Mass for Four Voices; Remember Not, O Lord God; Benedictus for Four Voices; Clarifica Me Pater; Preces and Responses; Fantasy for Keyboard; Litany; Felix Namque , and more.
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I was previously familiar with the English Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), but not with the complete spectrum of his works, which is available in this set. Most of the works are Catholic Latin choral works, highly suggestive of the sublime master of sacred polyphony, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1514-1594), Tallis's Italian contemporary.
Palestrina remained completely Catholic, and wrote only for the Church. Tallis, as an Englishman, was caught up in that revolutionary period, when Henry VIII and his successors began introducing modified Church services in the early part of that period known as the Protestant Reformation. CD6 contains some of the music for these services, some in Latin and some in English. (English just doesn't cut it as a liturgical language; it always comes across as trite in comparison to the Latin.)
Some of Tallis's Latin settings almost equal the great Palestrina, such as "Spem in alium" for forty individual voices, which is perhaps the most familiar of Tallis's works. CD9 and CD10 contain Tallis's instrumental music, primarily on lute and harmonium, with some vocal airs.
The engineering is clear, as with all the Brilliant Classics sets, which are not reissues of older material, but new recordings. The 10-CD set is supplemented by a CD-ROM containing all linernotes and text of the vocal music.
The music itself is magnificent. Obviously, in any Complete Works there will be some pieces of less interest to individual listeners, and while I'm not over-keen to hear lengthy organ settings of Felix namque on a regular basis, there will be those who are. There is a wealth of magnificent music - for example the motet Miserere nostri is, for me, two minutes of what Heaven sounds like and, of course, there are little-recorded gems to discover among the better-known pieces. A Complete Works also allows you to see how the changing religious politics of the Tudor period affected the way liturgical music was composed, from the overwhelmong, stunning 40-voice motet Spem in alium for Catholic worship under Mary to the spare but lovely Four Voice Mass to comply with Cranmer's new protestantism.
It's worth saying that Disc 9 - The Instrumental Music and Songs - was named by a recent reviewer on BBC Radio 3's CD Review as an Essential Tallis disc. Quite right, too, in my view - the playing by Charivari Agréable is excellent and the counter-tenor Stephen Taylor is very good, too. The disc also includes `Ye sacred muses', Byrd's stunning lament on Tallis's death, which is a real bonus.
Brilliant Classics make a pretty good job of the packaging. It's cardboard, but attractive and durable. All the original liner notes and texts are supplied on a CD-ROM as Adobe Acrobat files. It's good to have them, although you can't really sit down comfortably with the text in front of you as you could with a booklet. For so much superb music at such a price, though, this is a sacrifice well worth making.
This set is not only musically delightful, it is an outstanding bargain, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Are 10 CDs too many? None are duds. There is something that I like a lot on each one. (Nine is not as good as the others, but it has beautiful and interesting music). It would be very hard to pick one or two discs from the set, and the set is the cost of three. Get the set.
The tomes of notes on the accompanying CD ROM take some wading through to find the best educated guesses for when the various works were written, and the pro-Papal anti-Protestant bias of the main writer is a bit hard to take.
The biggest disappointment is the fact that on CD1, tracks 9 & 10 are incorrectly split/allocated. The printed sleeve is actually correct, showing the "Agnus Dei" [last part] of the Mass: "Salve Intemerata" as lasting 3:56.
When one attempts to 'rip' one's CD onto one's hard-drive however, this "Agnus Dei" (tr.9) is shown as lasting for 15:55 (and does run for that long).
The proof that this is wrong, is that the biggest gap of silence is at 3:56, after which you can hear the singers sing "Salve intemerata".
("Salve Intemerata" is a stand-alone choral work [separate from the Mass of the same name], which is tr.10 on CD1.)
I've tried to split track 9 where it should end using my Xitel "Inport Deluxe" ripping software, but my system is not letting me save it. This is quite a nuisance.
I've found other problems with this "Brilliant - Classics" label before (not the original label of the recordings), so it is a label I will avoid from now on.
The music is sublime (most of it for my taste anyway), and 90% of the performances are excellent.
The problems mentioned above are quite disappointing for the outlay and wait for overseas mailing.
Most of this music is very worthwhile and highly enjoyable. The performances seem very good and the atmosphere is particularly excellent - resonant but realistic. The renditions of the pleasant but occasionally pedantic instumental music are about the music and not about some zealot's attempt to prove that he can "out authentic/period performance practice" the last guy. No hacking and sawing at strings or racing to see if a new world speed record can be set. What is that all about anyway? Is there any chance that such antics were intended, let alone even imagined by the composers of this great music. For example, Bach repeatedly demanded that his music be performed "cantabile" and "mit affekt". Oh and by the way, Bach never wrote his alto parts for countertenors - they weren't even present in his locale and he reportedly never even heard one sing until late in his career after most of his vocal music had already been written. But, I digress.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this set and highly recommend it to anyone who fancies early/Renaissance choral music. Even though there are a couple of CD's worth of somewhat "marginal" music, you can't go wrong with this set.
By the way, Amazon had it here in 3 days, even with free shipping.
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