The Tallis Scholars Sing William Byrd
This disc is a compilation of earlier Byrd recordings by the Tallis Scholars. But don't let that stop you -- it is superb. About the only complaint is that the sources of the various recordings used are not clearly identified, and there is also the potential for confusion with the similarly titled DVD Playing Elizabeth's Tune: The Tallis Scholars Sing William Byrd. This two-disc set has nothing to do with that concert film (other than the common ensemble). It offers an overview of Byrd's music, with all three masses (for three, four, and five voices, respectively) on disc one and a selection of Latin motets, English anthems, and the Great Service on the second disc. The Tallis Scholars are a group of about 10 singers (a few pieces require 12), with women on the soprano and alto parts. In most of the music there are two singers per part -- the black belt of choral singing. There is not a moment where the relationship between the two singers, and among them and the singers on the other parts, is not in perfect control; the group comes as close as is humanly possible to an a cappella sound that's both transparent and rich. There are purer ways of singing this music, involving boys, and there are versions that more thoroughly reflect its underground nature -- Byrd was a Catholic, and the Latin music may reflect some of the difficulties of that situation in Queen Elizabeth's Protestant England. There is no other version, however, that can match this one in terms of sheer beauty. A fine cornerstone for any collection that touches in any way on the glories of the English Renaissance and a welcome anthology of material that the average buyer might have trouble assembling in full.