Magnificat - The Tudors At Prayer - BBC Music Magazine

Performance: 5 stars

Recording: 5 stars 

This disc illuminates works from England's most glorious, but little-known, Renaissance sacred repertoire. Director Philip Cave creates some revelatory readings, particularly of Mundy's monumental Vox patris caelestis. For clarity, nuance and intimacy, Magnificat's 18 vocalists are unmatched. They sustain lines of eye-popping length, delicately articulating imitative points without compromising blend, and offering a timbral mix which ranges from pure-toned treble to rumbling bass. The production's quality matches that of the artists; even listeners unused to polyphony can follow the movement of musical ideas between voices.

The programme is both original and edifying, including first recordings of gem-like works by Robert White and William Mundy. Cave rightly ranks the obscure White alongside Mundy, Tallis, Taverner and Byrd, and demonstrates these English composers' capacity for writing both florid 'old style' Tudor and suave 'new style' continental compositions, their achievements at the cutting edge of innovation.

Occasionally Cave's slowness of tempos bleaches rhetoric from the score. For instance, Taverner set the words, 'when will ... I come before the face of God' to a plaintive ascending figure, taken up by all voices: under Cave's directorship, the gesture is lost. Cave rarely lets word rhythms enliven a sombre pulse. Still, sobriety doesn't dim the brilliance of this recording. 

07 August 2014