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Clemens and Tallis - The Brabant Ensemble and Chapelle du Roi


Ecce quam bonum; Missa Ecce quam bonum; Accesserunt ad Jesum; Job tonso capite; Veni eJecta mea; Pascha nostrum; Carole, magnus eras

The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice

Signum SIGCD045 [70:54]



THOMAS TALLIS (c.151O-c.1585)

Lamentations of Jeremiah I & II
Wipe away my sins; Forgive me, Lord, my sin; Blessed are those that be undefiled; Arise, 0 Lord, and hear; With all our hearts; I call and cry to thee; 0 sacred and holy banquet; When Jesus went into Simon the Pharisee's house; Blessed be thy name; 0 Praise the Lord II; Sing and glorify heaven's high majesty

Chapelle du Roi/Alastair Dixon

Signum SIGCD036 [63 mins]


If, like me, you don't read many esoteric books on music, you can rely on several of the record companies which specialise in early music to supply all the scholarly background you'll need, none better than Signum. Clemens ("not the Pope") of Brabant and Tallis of Greenwich (whose organ is preserved in St Alfege's Church, close by my home) were both born c.1510. Jacobus Clemens non Papa was prolific and his music widely published (15 masses, 200 motets, etc), but he left little material for biographers, having a wandering lifestyle. Thomas Tallis was venerated in his own time and served four monarchs at the Chapel Royal, so it is surprising that much of his music has not been satisfactorily published nor regularly performed.

The Clemens Mass Ecce quam bonum, based on one of his own five-voice motets, is set for four voices until the Sanctus, where a second tenor is added, with a canon at the unison. In the motets there are musical equivalents to the similes in the texts, e.g. falling thirds for ointment running down Aaron's beard; in a celebration of Philip II's investiture as Emperor, the motto plus ultra is represented by the top voice reaching and surpassing the top note of its range - many examples for alert listeners to spot.

Nicely sung by a new choir formed in Oxford, and with good explanatory notes by its musicologist conductor - full texts with translations in Signum's usual exemplary type-setting, as is the case likewise for the Tallis series.

Volume 8 of the Tallis complete works (one more to go!) is enjoyable for the general listener. Two settings from the Lamentations are sombre and affecting, with mainly syllabic treatment of the texts, broken by melismatic settings of the initial Hebrew letters. Again, there are many motets, all in English, including Sing and glorify, a version for five-part choir of the famous 40-part Spem in alium.

An interesting feature of the motets is their restricted vocal range, exploited by the Chapelle du Roi, who give some in high pitch (SAATB) and others low (ATTBarB). There is an interesting disquisition about these English contrafacta (probably arranged after Tallis's death) which, in the case of lost originals, can be identified by repeated notes of short duration to make the translated words fit.

Fine recording quality, and two recommendable CDs for mid-sixteenth century ecclesiastical music enthusIasts.

© Peter Grahame Woolf