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Fanfare Magazine: 43:1 (09-10/2019) 
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Reviewer: J. F. Weber

This is the ninth version of the finest and most familiar Mass of early 16th-century England, a setting for six voices using as cantus firmus a chant antiphon for Trinity Sunday. Only incidentally, it achieved another kind of immortality in 1560 when Thomas Mulliner transcribed for organ a melodic phrase from the Benedictus, in nomine Domini, that numerous composers arranged for instrumental consort. As Rees points out in his notes, the Mass might have been composed for either of Taverner’s two choirs, at the collegiate church in Tatterhall, Lincolnshire, or at Cardinal College (now Christ Church Cathedral), Oxford, both dedicated to the Holy Trinity, although most writers prefer to think of the latter choir in connection with the work.

Of the eight previous recordings, Bruno Turner in 1962 was remarkably stylish for the time, Andrew Parrott set the work in a liturgical reconstruction (Fanfare 9:6), Stephen Darlington used the present-day choir of men and boys that Taverner once directed in Oxford (31:1), and Peter Phillips improved on his elegant first recording by generously filling out the disc with three Magnificats (37:4). The four other recordings were summed up in the last two reviews. The present version is only the second that does not use a vocal ensemble of one or two voices, for it is made up of 30 adult mixed voices rather than Darlington’s men and boys.

The opening work, the votive antiphon Gaude plurimum, had never been recorded or broadcast when Tim Day published his Tudor Music Discography in 1989. It has since been made by Harry Christophers (13:4), Peter Phillips (22:3), and David Skinner (35:4), all directing small vocal ensembles. One would suspect that the vocal ensemble Contrapunctus is singing here for the flexibility of the voices, but it is the choir, since two of its sopranos are identified as soloists. The work is a Marian antiphon sung at the end of the day (four more familiar texts are found in the general chant repertory). It is made up of five sections, the first three inviting the Blessed Virgin to rejoice in giving birth to her Son; this is the first time I have seen the Son of God referred to as mediam divinae Trinitatis personam (the middle person of the divine Trinity). The faithful rejoice with her in the fourth section and in the final section pray for her intercession. Like other extended votive antiphons of the period, this 17-minute work may have been too complex for the Tudor revival until the CD era. It is a masterly setting that rightly leads off the program, as it did on Christophers’s first recording.

The Le roy Kyrie has often been added to Taverner’s Mass recordings because all Tudor Masses omitted the Kyrie in favor of a troped chant setting. Among many recordings are Peter Phillips with this Mass (9:6 and 19:3), Harry Christophers (15:4), and Stephen Darlington (17:2). Here it is sung by Contrapunctus. The Mass follows with the same lightness of texture that the choir displayed in the opening work. By comparison with the three vocal ensembles, the choir brings expressive power to climactic sections that recommends this version as a worthy choice among the four discs.

The next two pieces, the antiphon Ave Maria (for daily use) and the responsory Audivi vocem (for All Saints Day) are sung by Contrapunctus. I cannot find any previous recording of Ave Maria. Audivi vocem is on a Harry Christophers disc with this Mass (8:4; CD in 11:4), an Andrew Parrott disc (39:6), and a Stile antico program (34:4). The responsory that concludes the disc, Dum transisset Sabbatum for Easter, sung by the choir, is one of the most familiar of Taverner’s works on record, from David Willcocks, Roger Blanchard, an early Peter Phillips, Philip Ledger, John Hoban, Matthew Best, Martin Neary, Peter Phillips with this Mass (9:6 and 19:3), Geraint Bowen, Jeremy Filsell, John Rutter (12:2), Roy Massey (12:4), Harry Christophers (15:4), Stephen Darlington (17:2), Donald Hunt (20:5), Darlington again (31:1), Timothy Smith (33:6), David Skinner (35:4), Stile antico (36:4), Doug Fullington (36:6), Phillips’s third version (39:4), and Andrew Parrott (39:6). Though not identified as such, this is the more familiar of two settings; Darlington and Phillips have recorded both settings together, and Harry Christophers did so on separate discs.

This is a remarkably successful program: Apart from one record premiere, the whole program is duplicated by first-rate competition, yet it stands up against the best of them with the sort of unanimity and flexibility that we look to the smaller groups to achieve. If you want another way to hear this music than the favored vocal ensembles, this is a match for the fine Darlington version.

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