- Dum transisset sabbatum (ii), motet for 5 voices
The early English Renaissance composer John Taverner is known mostly for his "Western Wind Mass" and "Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas," big works with textures that seem to seek to fill musical space as densely as possible within the framework that was possible at the time. The "Missa Corona spinea" ("Crown of Thorns Mass") recorded here is something else again: a group of wide-open musical spaces. The top line is extremely virtuosic; Taverner's boy sopranos must have been remarkable singers, for the music is a full challenge -- the line divides at several spectacular places -- even for the adult female sopranos of the Tallis Scholars, who, it must be said, do a fine job of sounding like boys. Below the top line are five more parts, two of them basses. The result is a texture emphasizing both top and bottom in an extremely unusual way. The overall picture of Taverner that emerges from the combination of this and the "Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas" (also recorded recently by the Tallis Scholars) is that of a composer fascinated by sound itself, almost like a contemporary figure at the beginning of a new stylistic epoch. The "Missa Corona spinea" is a rather mysterious work; it is not known for what occasion it was written, although director and annotator Peter Phillips suggests that it might have been commissioned by Cardinal Wolsey, and its cantus firmus chant remains unidentified. Two responsories with a common cantus firmus and a common lyrical mood, but very different effects, round out the program. Phillips calls the mass "a kind of treble concerto, packed with mind-blowing sonorities. If ever there was music to exemplify Shakespeare's 'Music of the Spheres,' it is here." The music, and the music-making, indeed live up to this high-flying promotional prose.