John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Gimell Records CDGIM046. 62’07

John Taverner:  Missa Corona spinea, Dum transisset Sabbatum I and II

It is very tempting, and indeed, very enjoyable, to let Renaissance vocal music just waft over you as a seemingly amorphous wave of music, ebbing and flowing like the tide. You can do this with this CD of Taverner’s extraordinary Missa Corona spinea, but from the very start you will realise that this is something very different. Just three notes in (after a rather curious 12 second pause at the start of the first track), the Treble line (sung by a pair of sopranos) soars up to a high B flat. From then on, this Treble line has very little chance to relax, and always seems to be attracted to this high note. This expansive vocal range is a feature of all the movements, and it grabs the attention. For example, in the Credo the Et expecto section starts with two bass lines before the treble enters two and a half octaves above them – the final cadence has a four octave span from top to bottom. The use of a double bass line is also unusual. And if you ever wondered what a Gimell was, there are two examples here, where the Trebles divide into two parts (track 7), later doing the same together another divided part (track 10) to form a double Gimell. This Mass was clearly intended for a special occasion and includes some remarkable features. Continue reading