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Thomas Tallis & Errolyn Wallen

Tallis Lamentations 1 & Spem in Alium; Errolyn Wallen When the Wet Wind Sings with anthems & madrigals for Elizabeth's Chapel Royal

The Tallis Scholars at Greenwich+Docklands Festival,
Old Naval College Chapel, Greenwich 9 July 2003

The Tallis Scholars clockwise from top left
Philip Cave (tenor), Caroline Trevor (alto), Peter Phillips (director), Francis Steele (bass), Janet Coxwell (soprano), Patrick Craig (alto), Deborah Roberts (soprano), Steven Harrold
(tenor), Sally Dunkley (soprano), Donald Greig (bass), Tessa Bonner (soprano)
Photo by James Brabazon

This brash image, which the Scholars surely wouldn't have thought up,
is featured in the publicity material for the Greenwich Festival, seriously dumbed down from what it used to be; it is useful for putting names to faces of the core singers, who had to lie down, link arms and smile for the photographer, and would have been even more so if they had sung on a raised platform so that we could see them better. Otherwise, nothing but praise for an outstanding and memorable event.

This was the only concert in the 2003 programme; the festival continues until 27 July. It was notable for a magnificent account of the great 40-part Spem in Alium, but more especially for a gratifyingly elaborate companion piece for that famous motet, commissioned from Errolyn Wallen, a locally based composer who bridges popular and esoteric genres 'from avant garde classical to popular song' with enviable ease and eclectic musicianship. Computer search only discovers her as a pianist collaborator with her brother Byron; perhaps she is too busy to organise a website? Errolyn certainly did not dumb down or compromise her composing for the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, as they call it.

Her 15 minute setting of overlapping text fragments past and recent, in Latin, English, Twi, Spanish & Portuguese, is a virtuoso challenge for the best chamber choirs. As with most of the works in the concert, the music is contrapuntally complex, and likely to prove hard to maintain pitch for some choirs - no problem for the Talliss's. Their tone throughout the concert was smooth and perfectly blended, the sopranos steady and pure; a very different sound from the chapel choirs with boys in the Spitalfields Festival last month. It is easy to get lost temporarily following the words of Errolyn Wallen's compilation, but they are strong and worth unravelling, and the final effect moving and inspiriting. It merits consideration for the Proms and would sound great in the Royal Albert Hall. When the Wet Wind Sings should have an enduring concert life and is sure to be recorded soon.

The presentation was exemplary. The interior of the Old Naval College Chapel is one of London's glories, and the subtle, hidden lighting allows you to enjoy the intricacies of the interior and its elaborate plaster work over the windows and on the roof. The lights were not dimmed, as we suffer so often, so we were free for once to follow the notes and all the words, with translations, supplied in good, clear print.


© Peter Grahame Woolf