After the enormous success last year of their recording of Bach Motets (476 5776), the Hilliard Ensemble turn their attention to music of the English Renaissance and specifically, works by three 16th century composers, Tallis, Tye and Sheppard. While Christopher Tye might be branded one of the lesser-known figures of the English Renaissance, and John Sheppard perhaps the more esoteric, Thomas Tallis stands as the most important and accomplished musician of the Tudor period. All three, however, were masters of polyphony, associated with the Chapel Royal.
The music here is not a sampling of the (much-recorded) music for the new Prayer Book but a survey of the earliest examples of the impact of reform on musical composition, namely from the last decades of Henry VIII’s reign. The works of Tallis, Tye and Sheppard are alternated and contrasted throughout this beautifully constructed recital, recorded, like many of the Hilliard Ensemble’s CDs, in the splendid, crystal-clear acoustics of the Sankt Gerold monastery in the Austrian Alps. Tallis has long been an inspirational figure for the Hilliards, who had a huge success with their recording of his Lamentations of Jeremiah (833 3082) in 1986 - one of their first ECM New Series discs - and also brought his music into their collaboration with Jan Garbarek on Mnemosyne (465 1222).
“The ensemble is flawless and the sound reproduction crystalline.”
“…beautifully blended performances…”
“The Hilliards here return to familiar territory with a programme of Tallis, Tye and Sheppard. While the territory may be familiar, however, not all of its landmarks are, and neither is their disposition – this is an extremely well organised disc, surveying the impact that the musical aspects of the Reformation had in the first instance on English composers (what David Skinner aptly describes as 'that musicologically grey period in the last decades of Henry VIII's reign'). Thus, while all the works by Tallis (Inieiunio et fletu, Te lucis ante terminum, Audivivocem and Salvator mundi, the latter given a particularly beautiful performance) are well known, they are set in the context of much more recondite material. The rarities from Sheppard include the early Gaudete celicole omnes, whose constant flow almost suggests at times a kind of English Gombert, and later, clearly Henrician works, such as the marvellously luminous hymn Eternerex, altissime. The music by Tye includes Omnesgentes plaudite, which may perhaps be considered relatively known, but the four sections of the Missa sine nomine from the Peterhouse partbooks will probably be unknown even to most connoisseurs of this period, precisely on account of the missing voice. Hopefully these beautifully blended performances will help to change this state of affairs, for it is an extremely impressive work, heralding the new, compact and more declamatory style with consummate skill. An outstanding release.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.