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Reviews: Tallis: Spem in Alium - The Sixteen

Reviews: 2

Review by JamieF October 10, 2003 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This recording was produced to celebrate The Sixteen’s 25th anniversary. It is the first SACD from The Sixteen, and the first surround sound recording of Tallis’ 40 part motet “Spem in alium”.

Recorded in All Saints Church, Tooting (London) in May 2003, the disc contains 9 works:

1. Thomas Tallis - Spem in alium
2. Orlando Gibbons - O all true faithful hearts
3. William Byrd - Deus venerunt gentes
4. Thomas Tomkins - Know you not
5. Orlando Gibbons - Great King of Gods
6. Thomas Tomkins - O God, the heathen are come
7. Thomas Tallis - Te Deum
8. Thomas Tomkins - Be strong and of a good courage
9. Thomas Tallis - Sing and glorify

40 singers make up The Sixteen’s ranks, and they are accompanied by a 20-strong Symphony of Harmony and Invention (4 cornetts, 7 sackbuts, 2 dulcians, 5 viols and 2 organs), all under the direction of Harry Christophers.

The sleeve notes provide short but interesting backgrounds to the pieces, but lack clear details about the forces employed in the performance of each work.

The disc starts with Tallis’ 40 part motet, performed with the original Latin text “Spem in alium”. The listener is placed in the middle of a circle of the 40 singers. Contrapuntal textures fill the room, punctuated by chattering consonants from all around the circle. But unlike some immersive surround mixes, this works well – the recording is convincingly balanced, allowing the listener to be absorbed by the music rather than listening for sounds from all directions.

Tracks 2 to 8 adopt a more conventional ambient surround mix, that is again very well recorded. For example in Gibbons’ “Great King of Gods”, resonating sackbuts and cornetts occupy a large soundstage, while voices remain clearly focused. Tomkins’ “O God, the heathen are come” is wonderfully dramatic, with nasal viols and a deep rich bass voice – plus the words of Psalm 79 that read like the screenplay of a Tarantino movie.

The disc ends with the Tallis motet set to an English text for the investiture of Henry as Prince of Wales in 1610. This is a full-cream version with instrumental reinforcements and the immersive mix of track 1.

As well as top notch sound and performances, the disc offers great value at 71 minutes of music (times three). The booklet contains a DSD logo, but there are no further details about the recording. It is a hybrid multi-channel SACD and is also available on DVD-A.

This is about the 40th multi-channel classical SACD I have bought, and to me represents the greatest achievement to date with the medium.

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Review by stvnharr April 25, 2004
Performance:   Sonics:
I've been listening to this music for the past few months on my headphone system, and only recently was able to listen on the big system. My system is strictly 2 channel as well. For true justice this music needs to be listened to on a MC system. Headphones are kind of a pretend surround listening experience, and this music does play well on headphones. But I imagine that it would really shine on a MC system.
As for the music itself, I think the other two reviews really wrote most that needs to be written.

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