The Tallis Scholars at the National Concert Hall, 6 November 2014

From the renaissance music of William Byrd to contemporary works from Arvo Pärt, the Tallis Scholars showed an easy confidence under Peter Phillips’ direction.  As the ten take their places at the centre of the simply adorned stage, the near capacity hall goes quiet and, with a nod from Phillips, they open the evening’s performance with the first of three selections from William Byrd, Laidibus in Sanctis.

Five singers leave the stage for the following work, a motet from Josquin Des Prez. Each of the five parts is clear and balanced, although the combined voices struggle a bit to fill the hall. Nicolas Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, with its shifting layers of sound, fares better, with alto Patrick Craig’s voice standing out in particular. Two more Byrd selections close the opening half of the concert – Tribue, Domine, the last, a moving and complex work, shows the Tallis Scholars at their best.

Moving from the ancient to the (relatively) modern, the second half of the programme featured works from Part, Tavener, and Tippet. First up, though, was Saint-Chapelle, from Eric Whitacre. A more forceful sound helped to bring the music to life. Philips direction was restrained but precise. John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos, the only piece of the night sung in English, was strong. Its clean vocal lines and simple harmonies serve to put the lyric centre-stage, a song of death and redemption.

Arvo Pärt’s music makes use of similarly crystalline sounds; his Magnificat is measured, each voice given space, coming together to form a sound that is richly textured. The final work of the programme, Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis, is a hauntingly beautiful piece – the voices of the Tallis Scholars are finely blended, even and clear.

A short encore, in the form of Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus, brings the evening to a close with a return to the older music for which the Tallis Scholars are best known. Although the NCH may not be the best-sounding venue for music of this sort, the Tallis Scholars showed just why they are held in such high regard.


William Byrd: Laudibus in Sanctis

Josquin Des Prez: Absalon, Fili Mi

Nicholas Gombert: Lugebat David Absalon

William Byrd: Ave Verum Corpus

William Byrd: Tribue, Domine

Eric Whitacre: Saint-Chapelle

Sir Michael Tippett: Plebs Angelica

Sir John Tavener: Funeral Ikos

Arvo Pärt: Magnificat

Arvo Pärt: Nunc Dimittis

Antonio Lotti: Crucifixus