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The connection with Lassus was a good reason to programme his 1580/90s Motet and Maginificat Aurora lucis rutilat, the musical complexity of which, under the alert and incisive direction of Peter Phillips, was definitely a highlight of the concert, and a good reason to stay awake at this late hour. From the very first verse, 'Aurora lucis rutilat' ('The dawn reddens with light'), smooth choral textures exploded into rich ruby colours, resonant chords flowing in lean, mellifluous lines through the two five-part choirs, focused and attuned to the nth degree. This was a performance full of care and detail, yet never pedantic, a lesson in early music choral interpretation that testified to the experience and imagination of this inspired conductor. One really sensed the vigour at the word 'fortissimus', the anguish of 'poema miseros', the jubilant splendour implied by 'Triumphans' and the gentle pathos at 'de funere'. Here diction was immaculate, textures clean, and the leaping lilt of the switch to triple time in the final verse effected seamlessly, and there was additional vitality to the final paragraph, 'Gloria tibi Domine'. The subtle sidestepping from chordal to contrapuntal textures in the ensuing Magnificat, the eloquent plainchants and the florid imitative melismas launching each new verse made this performance equally enthralling.

Striggio's visit to Vienna was extended to the Bavarian court in Munich, and then to Paris and London, and it is at these centres of musical excellence in Europe that his daring use of texture stimulated a whole range of composers. Moloney speculates that in London an encounter with Thomas Tallis, then pre-eminent amongst English choral composers, would have been a likely event, and that this helps explain the direct influence of either the Mass or the Motet on the well known forty-part Spem in Alium. Certainly the period of Elizabethan music as a whole flowered by imitating and rivalling Italian models which were becoming known through the new medium of music printing and publishing. The famous account by the 17th century Thomas Wateridge about Tallis' response to Thomas Howard's challenge to '... sett as good a songe' as the Italians, explains the relevance in this programme of the famous masterpiece.

The Tallis Scholars sang it beautifully, with strong tuttis to invigorate the flow. I especially enjoyed Peter Phillips' graduated panning across the choirs, bringing in each new voice that rose to prominence then sank into the melée, and one could appreciate the freedom of enunciation of consonants that cut across the conductor's strict cuing. There is nothing obvious about this piece which flows throughout with each textural coalescence anticipated by a small group before the main ensemble.

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Copyright © 25 July 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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