Classical review: Singers reward their packed pews

By William Dart

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The Tallis Scholars had a full house at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The Tallis Scholars had a full house at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

A full Holy Trinity Cathedral is usually reserved for midnight mass or funerals of the famous, but there were few empty seats at the Wednesday concert by the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips.

First up was the music of their namesake - Tallis' Loquebantur variis linguis, a Latin motet, with shivery clashes in its alleluias and expansive cadences punctuated by chant.

Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli delivered the ultimate in sonic serenity; this was 16th century chill-out music for total soul immersion.

Balance may have been just a sliver short of perfection at times, but Phillips and the choir made glorious play of the vocal groupings in the Gloria. The Credo laid out a choral Axminster, made from the weave of pulsating voices.

After interval, Allegri's Miserere added a theatrical touch with the tenor soloist in an upper balcony and a second choir at the end of the nave singing ethereal responses.

Repetitious to the point of ritualistic, this work took on an extraordinarily cumulative power.

A contemporary bracket proved that the subtly laced dissonances and mysterious momentum of Arvo Part's Nunc dimittis were vastly superior to the easy tunefulness of John Tavener's The Lamb.

Two motets by William Byrd were personal highlights. The first, Ave Verum, mesmerised with its waves of lapping Misereres; the second, Laudibus in sanctis, seemed to dance within its own echoing space.

The piece de resistance was Spem in Alium, the vast 40-voice motet by Thomas Tallis.

While not denying its historical importance, this is a curiosity, perhaps best enjoyed from the inside, as a performer.

What we heard was an extremely laudable achievement, considering the logistics of combining forces with 30 local singers.

Forty full-on voices inevitably take on a force of their own and there were thrilling moments. However, shifting textures were not as seamless as they might have been, there were flecks of indecision and the original pitch was not sustained.

Yet, how could this legendary choir have anything less than a standing ovation? That they got, and we were rewarded with a rousing rendition of the great motet's final section.

- NZ Herald

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