Spem in alium – Choral Works of THOMAS TALLIS: Spem in alium; Salve intemerata; Missa Salve inemerata; With all our heart; Discomfort them, O Lord; I call and cry to Thee, O Lord – Oxford Camerata,/Jeremy Summerly director – Naxos

by | Aug 19, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Spem in alium – Choral Works of THOMAS TALLIS: Spem in alium;
Salve intemerata; Missa Salve inemerata; With all our heart; Discomfort
them, O Lord; I call and cry to Thee, O Lord – Oxford Camerata,/Jeremy
Summerly director – Naxos multichannel SACD 6.110111, 77:19 *
**:

When a Allesandro Striggio presented in London Ecce beatam lucem, a
motet of 40 voices (musical lines), Thomas Tallis, then England’s
leading composer, felt obliged to match him, with the 40-voice Spem in
alium.

The annotator states that Spem was performed in an octagonal banquet
hall at the Earl of Arundel’s Nonsuch Palace, presumably deploying the
voices as eight groups of five. This recording duplicates that, with
the eight groups arrayed 360° around the listener.

Surprisingly, this is not Spem’s first full-surround recording; there’s
a Coro SACD with fill-ups mostly of other British composers, not just
Tallis. And we can’t forget the classic Tallis Scholars stereo
recording on Gimell.
The Tallis Scholars’ recording has long been considered a definitive
performance. It is vigorous and vibrant, with a strong sense of forward
motion, and the recording is immediate and well-focused.

The Oxford Camerata recording is rather different. It’s a slower,
gentler, more introspective performance perhaps more in line with the
sentiments of the piece. And the full-surround recording is musically
appropriate, approximating the way the piece was originally performed.

But the recording is otherwise disappointing. It’s much too distant for
my taste, especially considering that the annotator describes Tallis’s
style as “intimate and direct”. It also lacks richness, warmth, and
weight, particularly in Spem, where the high voices too often merge
into a unpleasant tizzy fizz. The Tallis Scholars recording is cleaner
and more focused.

There’s no question that the Oxford Camerata’s is attractively priced
for a hybrid multi-channel SACD; it’s significantly less expensive than
most stereo-only versions. But in a work that makes much of its effect
simply in the massiveness of its sound, the Naxos recording is
disappointing, and (in my opinion) works against the piece. I would
recommend checking out other performances before purchasing this one.

 – William Sommerwerck

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