sábado, 22 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [22-XII-2012]

Thomas Tallis [c.1505-1585]: Videte miraculum a 6.
Stile Antico.
British Renaissance Christmas.

    Matthew O'Donovan says about Tudor Music for advent & Christmas:
"The backbone of this programme of Advent and Christmas music is Thomas Tallis's extraordinary, yet incomplete, Christmas mass, Missa Puer natus est. In spite of the work's phenomenal scope, there is no conclusive evidence as to its origin. One attractive theory holds that the mass was first performance by the joint forces of Queen Mary’s Chapel Royal and Philip II of Spain’s renowed Capilla Flamenca in December 1554 [Philip and Mary had married earlier in the year]. It is based on the plainchant Puer notus est nobis -the introit for Christmas Day Mass -and it has been suggested that the plainchant may well have held a double entendre for its forst hearers, as Mary was at the time erroneously believed to be pregnant with a much hoped-for heir. The works lavish and unusual seven- part scoring -and the presence of Flemish influences in Tallis’s writing- lend weight to this theory. On the other hand, the question of exactly when the first performance might have taken place presents a problem. We know that such a 'joint service' took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 2 December, but that is unlikely to have been the occasion on which this mass was performed: Tallis surely knew the difference between Advent and Christmas-and cared!
Furthermore. as one scholar has argued, it seems improbable that Tallis 'would have been so insensitive as to use a text beginning Puer natus est nobis to celebrate the Queen’s rumoured pregnancy when the sex of the child, the survival of both child and mother ans the stability of the realm would all have been causes of trepidation rather than rejoicing' [David Humphreys, “Tallis’s Suscipe quaeso”, Early Music XXVIII no. 3, August 2000, p. 508].

    Whatever the work's original purpose, what is not in doubt is its extraordinary scale and virtuosic compositional intricacy. The impression it leaves is one of immense grandeur, an effect created at least in part by the steady progression of the cantus firmus, coupled with the almost unbroken use of a seven-part texture throughout. While the manner of his imitation seems to reflect the latest trends of continental composition, the use of a different plainchant melody as a cantus firmus is very much a nod to the conventions of earlier generations. Indeed, Tallis's treatment of the plainchant is governed by an extraordinarily complex quasi-medieval numerological scheme, whereby each note is assigned a value based on its vowel in the original text. We even hear the melody in retrograde at one point during the mass. This elaborate cantus firmus treatment, Tallis’s varied palette of contrapuntal techniques and the work's carefully proportioned structure together render this magisterial mass setting one of the most strikingly unusual and innovative works of the period.

    The second thread running through the programme is the group of four Byrd Propers -the seasonal liturgicai texts set for votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent. These come from the Gradualia of 1605, the first of two books in which William Byrd set out to provide the recusant Catholic community with a comprehensive array of musical settings of the Mass Propers throughout the year. As was Byrd's custom in Gradualia, these works are models of concision; each one is perfectly proportioned and compellingly individual, yet Byrd develops his musical ideas over a comparatively short space of time, and is as economical with his use of material as he is efficient in his (mostly syllabic) word setting. Nonetheless, his masterful control of texture ensures that each point of imitation is clearly declaimed.
   Perhaps it is Byrd's tonal resourcefulness and his genius for striking motivic invention that stand out here, though. Tollite portas is a prime example of the latter, where the opening point -festive and fanfare-like as the King of Glory is welcomed through the gates of Heaven- gives way to an ascending scale as the psalmist asks 'Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Rorate caeli is similarly memorable for its persistent ascending and descending motifs -as if to illustrate the believer calling up to the heavens, which, in turn, pour down justice. By contrast, the power of Ecce virgo is in the awe and wonder created by the unexpected shifts in tonality in the opening passage. These lend a palpable sense of anticipation which is only fulfilled at the final return to the tonic key of C minor as the name of the promised child -'Emmanuel- is revealed. In Ave Maria, Byrd creates another striking effect by effectively interrupting the opening platitudes of the angel's greeting -set to short, graceful phrases in the tonic minor- with an astonishingly luxuriant cadence in the relative major at the claim 'the Lord is with thee'. It is as if -just for a moment- he involves us deeply in the emotive power of those words, before re-adopting a more detached contemplative stance; the final alleluias graciously ooze simplicity itself.

    The earliest polyphonic work in the programme, Taverner's Audivi vocem de caelo, follows the common pattern of alternating polyphony and plainchant, and is, liturgically speaking, a responsory for All Saints Day, though the gospel Fassage from which the text originates is closely associated with Advent. The piece is striking for its close-knit four-part texture and narrow tessitura, making it particularly suitable for performance by upper voices alone; indeed, there is evidence to suggest that it might have been sung by a quartet of boy trebles. In other respects, the soaring musical language of this piece is very typical of Taverner's style, though there are also some interesting turns- perhaps most notably the bold passing dissonance in the very first phrase of the polyphony, which results in a peculiarly arresting start to the piece.

    If Taverner's motet is notable for its narrow compass, the opposite can be said of Robert White's expansive and virtuosic Magnificat, a work which rivals many of John Sheppard's for its huge range -well over three octaves spread over up to six parts. White's consistently inventive musical ideas and his imaginative and varied approach to melodic writing render this work a veritable contrapuntal tour de force. Again, plainchant verses alternate with counterpoint, but the contrapuntal verses themselves vary in conception: some are scored for full six-part choir, with the plainsong Magnificat tone sung as a cantus firmus in the tenor; others use smaller configurations of voices requiring subdivision of parts, changing at a chosen point in each verse, affording the composer the opportunity to exploit a wonderful diversity of different textures. At one point the plainchant moves to the mean voice; in others it disappears almost completely, left only as a fragmented memory in some points of imitation.

    The remaining two works are both based on a strict monorhythmic cantus firmus according to the old tradition: the plainchant appears in regular semibreves in the tenor voice throughout the polyphonic sections of the piece, which alternate with plainchant. The two composers, however, create startlingly different works. Videte miraculum, which opens the programme, is one of Tallis’s most sublime: through careful control of texture and harmonic rhythm, lulling use of repetition on several levels, and a masterfully-paced development of motifs, Tallis's motet effuses an extraordinary sense of rapt adoration, stillness and mystery: to hear it is to stand awestruck before a fine painting of the Virgin and Child. In Verbum caro, by contrast, Sheppard creates a radiant and sensuously enveloping sound-world spanning a huge vocal range, characterized by thrilling harmonic turns, his uniquely quirky approach to part-writing, and some truly daring sonorities.
Never one to sacrifice a thrilling effect on the altar of contrapuntal integrity, Sheppard calls upon his trebles to divide into a three-part gymel at the very end of the polyphony, in order to finish on a glorious eight-part chord."

    For me this is one the most exciting English Renaissance pieces for Christmas. The luminous harmony and brilliant lines are quasi-unique treatment in the music of Tallis.
This album is absolutely essential, for the incredible music and the wonderful performance.
The sound of Stile Antico the sound of this group is still as wonderful and as appropriate to perform English polyphony, that in few moments it seems almost unreal.
Probably it's one of the best recording of English Renaissance polypohny of recent year.

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