Spem in alium
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Cadogan Hall, 9 June 2022
Although I have listened to and reviewed The Tallis Scholars many times over the years, I don’t think I have ever heard them sing a complete programme of Tallis. That omission was overcome with their all-Tallis concert in Cadogan Hall. It ended, perhaps inevitably, with the famous 40-part motet Spem in alium. The rest of the concert drew on a core group of 14 singers in various formations demonstrating the breadth of Tallis choral works.
It opened with one of my favourite Tallis pieces, Loquebantur variis linguis, composed for the feast of Pentecost (which was a few days before the concert). This one work summarises all that is wonderful about Tallis with its scrunchy harmonies and false relations, the distinctive cadential pattern of the repeated Alleluias, and the sheer musical intelligence of the polyphonic structure. It was followed by a sequence of shorter and less complex pieces, ranging from the gently unfolding canonic lines of the Miserere nostri to the exquisite If ye love me. The Sancte deus was another piece with distinctive cadences.
An additional singer joined the core 14 for the extended Gaude gloriosa that closed the first half. The nine sections of praise to the Virgin Mary varied in their vocal texture, the two central Gaude contrasting high and low voices before all the voices combine in a well-controlled build-up of musical tension by Tallis and Peter Phillips.
The way that Tallis interprets text was particularly evident in Suscipe quaeso Domine, a prayer for absolution. After a series of canonic entries of the seven voices, there is a sudden change of texture at the word peccavi (I have sinned) and the following Deus miserere mei (God have mercy on me). The Lamentations of Jeremiah II followed, with its slight military feel as the ‘foes become overlords and enemies prosper’ and a passage of homophony as ‘the children are led captive before the face of the oppressors’. We also had another beautifully scrunchy cadence on the word Daleth.
An unfeasibly large music desk was moved centre stage as the 40 singers processed back on stage for the concluding Spem in alium. They stood in two long straight rows across the stage, so that the opening bars moved from left to right. It goes without saying that the singing of The Tallis Scholars throughout the evening was exquisite, the voices blending perfectly. The cadences wee attractively calm as a result of the stability of the voices and their tuning.
Tallis Loquebantur variis linguis
Tallis Miserere nostri
Tallis Sancte deus
Tallis If ye love me
Tallis Hear the voice and prayer
Tallis Gaude gloriosa
~ Interval ~
Tallis Suscipe quaeso Domine
Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah II
Tallis In ieiunio et fletu
Tallis Spem in alium