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Taverner – Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas

Mater Christi; Dum transisset Sabbatum; O Wilhelme


The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Stephen Darlington - Director


Avie 2123 [Recorded 2006 – 63 minutes]


Thomas Wolsey, son of a humble Suffolk butcher, gained preferment at the Court of Henry VIII and rose to the offices of Lord Chancellor and Cardinal. His quest for power drove him to initiate elaborate projects, which were often abandoned in favour of even more grandiose schemes, and he have left behind him two unique monuments to the folly of ambition over all else.


The first is the Bell Cage at East Bergholt , a few miles from his birth place, where Wolsey ordered the building of a rather grand parish church. Before the tower was completed he diverted the monies towards a college in Ipswich – or to quote local superstition, the wrath of heaven rebelled against the proud cleric, tearing the tower to pieces whilst angels flew round clanging the bells violently in his denunciation. Whichever version you care to believe, the bells are to this day housed in a unique wooden “cage” in the churchyard, and it is fascinating to watch them rung, not with ropes, but tilted on their cradles and hear the sound at close quarters.


The second is the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, commissioned to mark the foundation of Wolsey's prestigious Cardinal College in Oxford . Wolsey fell from power before the inauguration ceremony, his college became known as Christchurch and the Mass, generally regarded as the apogee of John Taverner's compositions, survived in the college library.


It is a resplendent piece of polyphony, with each of its sections being developed in expansive sweeping form. The textures are luxurious and the emotional contrasts, especially in the Credo where 6-fold layers of sound build up into towering glory as the choir proclaim the resurrection and ascension into heaven. An unusually extended Agnus Dei intercedes persuasively for the forgiveness of sin and the grant of peace.


A very skilful choir, with faultless Italianate Latin, are expertly directed by Stephen Darlington. Rather surprisingly the recording was not made in Christchurch itself, but in the smaller Chapel of Merton College, where the acoustics seem tailor made for this music. Three uncommon antiphons complete their programme.


Serena Fenwick