Tallis Scholars, 12/12/20
I heard the Tallis Scholars on 12/24/20 (it was live on 12/12/20), presented as part of the VOCES8 Live From London Christmas concert series.
The concert opened with a performance by the eight-voice National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain. They sang “The Aldeburgh Carol” by their director, Ben Parry. They appeared to be older teenagers and they had a lovely sound and the piece was clearly written with their strengths in mind, but would it be quibbling for me to say that I felt that their sound was a little too tightly controlled? Especially for a youth choir, I would like some more freedom in the sound. I was particularly bothered by the precise, iron grip on vibrato, the bloom from straight tone to lush (but still highly manicured) vibrato.
I’m sure that the Tallis Scholars are just as rigidly controlled, in their own way, but I love it in their case. It seems like it’s built into the DNA of the group, and the music. And the members are quite a lot older (fortyish and north of forty), so I’m not concerned about their vocal health.
They opened with the Gloria from the *Missa Puer natus* by Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis. Heavenly! This is how this music is supposed to sound. They’re a small group, six women and four men, and what a joy to hear a small vocal ensemble in which the blend is perfect and yet the individual voices have their own identity. A tricky balance, which I imagine has as much to do with casting as it does to rehearsal. However they do it, the praise should be heaped on their director, Peter Phillips. Here's a studio recording of them doing the piece:
“Gaude, gaude, gaude” by John Sheppard featured some stunning high notes by the sopranos. It always shocks me how the sopranos in this group (and I’m lucky enough to have seen them in concert a number of times) show no effort (let alone strain) in the production of their high notes. They just open their mouths and they come out. Placid and divine. This piece also featured some shapely chanting by the tenors.
They did two more movements from the Tallis *Missa Puer natus,* the Sanctus and the Benedictus. I might ask for a bit of playfulness in the hosannas at the end of the Benedictus. It wouldn’t do them any lasting harm, would it?
Benjamin Britten’s “Hymn to the Virgin” had been done at least once before in this concert series. It’s such a gorgeous piece, though I felt that the Tallis Scholars were a bit too chilly in their approach. Again, I’m quibbling.
I think of Arvo Pärt as being downright frosty, but “Bogorodiste devo” was sweet and charming. I love that the group mixes the old with the new (Pärt is still alive).
They did another movement from the *Missa Puer natus,* the Agnus Dei, which was full of piety and grace. They ended the concert with “Magnificat Primi Toni” by Tomás Luis de Victoria, which had an appealing sense of movement that was perhaps missing from the rest of the program. Here's VOCES8 singing the piece:
I don’t often watch the pre- or post-concert conversations with the artists in this series, but I’m glad I watched the conversation post-concert in this case. It was humanizing to see the singers in street clothes, sitting on pillows on the floor, chewing the fat. I was shocked to hear that the lowest note the bass sang was a very low A, the A below low C. That’s exceptional.