Hail to the Tallis Scholars, the world’s finest choir of Renaissance music who were in London last night for their first concert in the magnificent St-Martin-in-the-Fields. It was a glorious programme of Antoine Brumel’s 12-part Earthquake Mass, interweaved with sun-centered by American composer David Lang. Lang is one of America’s most-performed composers and his formidable work, which was specially commissioned for the Tallis Scholars, also made its first UK outing last night.
The Tallis Scholars was formed in 1973 by Peter Phillips. He also conducts the ensemble of twelve who sing a cappella. They are the leading champions of Renaissance sacred polyphony music, performing in both sacred and secular venues across the world. The ensemble has now appeared in 2300 concerts and recorded over 60 discs.
Last night, they were nearly upstaged by the teeniest, most adorable mouse who was skipping up and down the aisles during the evening’s performance, but nothing could quite deter from the emotional power and sonic gorgeousness of the choral sound. It was a beautiful program, both uplifting and enlightening, opening with the sublime Earthquake Mass, a trancelike 16th century piece which left us shaken and quite stirred.
Next up was the hypnotic sun-centered 1 – the truths we know. Lang is best known for his Pulitzer prize-winning the little match girl passion. Phillips explains how Lang was asked to “write a set of short movements which would act as a foil to Brumel’s monumental Earthquake Mass. Lang decided to develop the equally terrestrial thought of what Galileo saw through his telescope in the late 16th century: how the earth moves around the sun, and not, as the Catholic Church insisted, the other way round; and the trouble that this truth got him into. By quoting the words of Galileo himself, Plato, Francis Bacon, and Psalm 19, Lang explores our frailties as human beings, with the reality of the abyss – the ‘Earthquake’ – ever present if we get it wrong.”
The Shirazeh Houshiary-designed window of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, a seemingly beating work of art which appears to inhale and exhale, was the perfect backdrop for the Tallis Scholars’ expertly balanced and synchronised song.
This was a thrilling performance by the eleven virtuosi and a really delightful evening indeed. I hope we get to see the Tallis Scholars again in St-Martin-in-the-Fields. In the meantime, you can catch them at St Luke’s Music Society in Battersea on 21 May and at Cadogan Hall on 8 and 9 June. They will also be appearing at St John’s Smith Square in December – possibly with mouse in tow.
More information here.
St-Martin-in-the-Fields is located on Trafalgar Square and is one of London’s most famous churches. The current building was designed by Georgian architect James Gibbs, but churches have stood on this site since the medieval times. Enjoy classical music and jazz concerts in St-Martin-in-the-Fields all-year-round, including regular free lunchtime concerts. More information here.
I was a guest of Tallis Scholars. Opinions as always are my own.