Renaissance Christmas with The Tallis Scholars
13th December 2016
5 stars *****
Review: Paul & David Gray, 13 December 2016
The Tallis Scholars give us a string of choral pearls
It is always a joy to be in Symphony Hall when its sounding chambers are wide open, as they were for Tuesday night’s concert, creating a cathedral-like acoustic into which The Tallis Scholars could let their exquisite voices soar and yet where not one detail of their interpretation was lost.
The Scholars make a pleasingly complex sound. Where many choirs of this ilk seem to strive for an icy and uniform perfection, conductor, Peter Philips, miraculously manages to create a beautifully blended choral sound while still allowing his singers their individual character. This results in a very human, immediate and, at times seemingly fragile performance style. These characteristics were most evident during the three C20th pieces in the concert. Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin and Tavener’s The Lamb, the only two settings of English text, were distinguished by sedulous attention to diction and micro-phrasing; Pärt’s Magnificat by beautifully held control of dissonance.
The remaining works in the concert came from the renaissance; rich and complex multipart polyphony, much of it antiphonal. Here the Scholars displayed their remarkable sense of ensemble; effortlessly passing lines between one voice and another so that at times it was hard to tell were one ended and another began; and yet occasionally allowing one distinct voice to ride out gloriously above the rest. The richness of the sound in the more densely layered works belied the fact there were only ten singers on the stage. This was polyphonic singing at its most polished and accomplished and it is easy to see why this choir is amongst the most highly regarded of its type.
A special mention must be given to the sopranos, who managed Sheppard’s sustained high voice writing without any apparent effort and to the tenor who delivered some of the most fluid and nuanced plainsong I have heard in a long time.
We here in Birmingham were lucky to be a chosen venue in this world tour. They will be performing dates in London and Leeds during the remainder of the month and London and Bristol in the New Year. If you love renaissance choral music, these are concerts not to be missed,
Conductor Peter Phillips
The Tallis Scholars