Resurrexi!, recorded in 2021 in the Victorian splendour of Keble College Chapel, celebrates Easter in music – a full mass sequence based around Mozart’s Spaurmesse K. 258, interspersed with plainchant and a treasury of Viennese classical sacred music by Joseph and Michael Haydn. The result offers an imaginary recreation of an opulent service that might have been heard at Vienna’s Stephansdom, or at the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg’s court.
To mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Tallis, here are his biggest and best church compositions, performed in its customary high style by the Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerly (whose Fauré Requiem remains one of Naxos's all-time bestsellers). Tallis's youthful motet Salve intemerata is among the longest single-movement works of the 16th century, but it is Spem in alium, a work of Tallis's maturity, that overshadows any other English piece of the period, including those of his great contemporary, William Byrd. Scored for 40 independent voices, it is symphonic in proportion and resplendent in this surround-sound version.
Kyrie, the Missa Entre vous filles is Lassus at this freshest and most telling, and the Sanctus is particularly beautiful. The Missa Susanne un jour, however, is more ambitious, based on what Jeremy Summerly describes as ‘the most famous song of the 16th century—the l’homme arme of its day’. Moreover, as it deals with the Apocryphal Susanna who was accused of wanton behaviour by two elders after she had spurned their sexual advances, this was just the sort of parody model that had caused the Council of Trent to be upset, two decades earlier. However, it inspired Lassus to his richest polyphony, and many of his celebrants may not have been aware of the implications of the original chanson’s text.
The Oxford Camerata with their beautifully blended timbre have their own way with Tallis. Lines are firm, the singing has serenity but also a firm pulse. In the Mass (and particularly in the Sanctus) the expressive strength is quite strongly communicated, while the Benedictus moves on spontaneously at the close. The motets respond particularly well to Jeremy Summerly’s degree of intensity. The opening Loquebantur variis linguis has much passionate feeling, and this (together with the Audivi vocem and, especially, the lovely Sancte Deus) shows this choir of a dozen singers at their most eloquent. The recording, made in the Chapel of Wellington College, is very fine indeed.