Thomas Tallis: The Complete Works – Volume 5


This disc is the fifth in a series of nine that covers Thomas Tallis’s complete surviving output from his five decades of composition. In this disc we continue to explore the choral music of the Divine Office, progressing with the choral hymns and responories not found in volume 4.

Music for the Divine Office  is completed with Tallis’s liturgical organ music: five hymns and three antiphons for the Divine Office, an Alleluia for the Lady Mass and an extended setting of the offertory Felix Namque.

Tallis’s written music for the liturgy is modest in style, inventive and very appealing. His surviving output of written keyboard music is very small in light of his reputation. It is possible that much of this written music has been lost, and even more likely that the majority of his keyboard performances were improvised, and therefore not strictly notated. This CD offers reconstructions based on what is known of liturgical practice at the time when this music was most probably written (the later years of Henry VIII and those of Queen Mary I).

Recording the organ works of Tallis involves a number of difficult decisions, not least the choice of organ, as there are no surviving English organs from the sixteenth century. The organ in the late medieval private chapel of Knole, a vast country house in Kent, is arguably the oldest playable organ in England. It’s joints can sound rather rattley, and it has some trouble breathing at times (although the regular creak of the bellows being pumped by foot is a reassuring link with the pre-electric past). However, the sound of this organ in the Knole chapel acoustic might not be far off from what Tallis knew from inside the Chapel Royal.

Once again Chapelle du Roi presents an inspired and historically informed performance of the sacred renaissance repertoire for which they are celebrated.


What people are saying

What the critics said about earlier volumes:


"Serenely beautiful" – Ivan March, Penguin Guide


    "a masterly performance" D. James Ross


"their interpretation at times almost touches the visionary" Mary Berry, The Gramophone

Chapelle du Roi
directed by Alistair Dixon

Andrew Benson Wilson

Release date:10th Jun 2002
Order code:SIGCD016
Barcode: 635212001622

Organists? Review Nov 2002

This is an exquisite recording, both a musical and a historical experience. Thomas Tallis’s roots in well-established Medieval practices of music, including organum and plainchant fuse, with the luminous, sensuous textures of Renaissance polyvocality. The plainchant -always a test of a really serious liturgical choir – is sung with special expressiveness here, and the ensemble used for tracks 7-18, particularly the alto of Stephen Taylor, is as outstanding a group of musicians as I have heard in this kind of repertoire. It is superb. One might wish for a little more expression, or sensitivity to the sensuous, almost erotic, curvature of Tallis’s music from the sopranos in the early tracks, and perhaps a touch more vocal colour. But this is, generally, gorgeous singing. It is also lovely playing from Andrew Benson-Wilson on the creaky, foot-blown seventeenth-century organ of Knole House that Martin Souter recorded awhile ago to such effect. Benson-Wilson’s understanding of the historic English organ and its idiom is thorough, and the beautifully articulated, contoured result here is sufficient reason for hearing this disk. He is a player of authority in this period of keyboard music.

Francis O’Gorman

The Times, July 2, 2002, ****

Completion fanatics should not miss the fifth of nine planned CDs of the surviving works of Thomas Tallis, the 16th century master. Alistair Dixon’s Chapelle du Roi traverse the hymns and responsories of the Divine Office with characterful contributions from the Knole House organ. This is beautiful contemplative music: just the thing to relax the mind after a hard day’s collecting.

Geoff Brown

Goldberg Magazine, ****

The cadences of Tallis’s works invariably contain some marvellous minor seconds that push the tension to the limits of the then incipient harmonic system. This is, perhaps, one of the hallmarks of the style of Thomas Tallis, one of the greatest composers of the sixteenth century. “He is dead and music is dying”, wrote William Byrd. Beyond the poetic exaggeration, nothing musical was foreign to him and several of his works, freed of their original functions by the passage of time, would become masterpieces, not just of their own time but in the history of music.

Chapelle du Roi, an English group founded in 1994 and containing some of the best virtues of the choral tradition of that country, are involved in the recording of his complete works. The latest disc released is the fifth, which includes the choral hymns and responsories not included in the previous recording, plus Tallis’s liturgical music for organ: five hymns and three antiphons for the Divine Office, an Alleluia for the Lady Mass and an extensive arrangement from Felix namque. The excellent voices, precise gestures (although perhaps somewhat excessively contained) of the passages in plainchant, clear phrasing, although not as sharp as that used by the Tallis Scholars, and precise tuning, make these versions (with very high points, for example in Veni Redemptor gentium) extremely recommendable. The organ pieces are performed on a marvellous instrument in the chapel of Knole House, with a stylistic rigour that does not prevent them from exuding warmness. An appropriate finishing touch to this magnificent recording.

Diego Fischerman

Early Music America

This recording, the fifth in a series devoted to the complete works of Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), focuses on hymns and responsories for the Divine Office, the daily cycle of liturgical prayers excluding the Mass.

Tallis was methodical but crafty in composing his hymns, which are basically settings of the original plainchant melodies with passages of polyphony that alternate with the chant. The responsories follow the same formula, with the polyphonic sections quoting the chant melodies.

The recording provides a fasci1ating look into the workshop of one of the 16th century’s undisputed heavyweights. For example, two versions of the hymn Te lucis ante terminum are included, and it’s an ear-opening experience to hear them side by side. Equally compelling is the solo responsory Audivi vocem, where Tallis dexterously bounces the original plainchant melody from voice to voice in a four-voice setting. The addition of liturgical keyboard works is most welcome, particularly in Alleluia per te Dei genitrix (the only selection from the Mass), where voices and organ blend beautifully.

This entire series has impressed me with its blend of scholarship – the liner notes are superb – and superior musicianship Alistair Dixon’s Chapelle du Roi continues to make me rave. The ensemble doesn’t transpose Tallis’s music up, so the high voices float majestically upwards without strain while the lower voices provide solid bedrock. Chapelle du Roi’s singing is marvelously natural and communicates the music’s reverence They sound like the world’s best church choir-exactly what this music demands.

Craig Zeichner

International Record Review, December 2002/January 2003

Chapelle du Roi have reached Volume 5 of their complete survey of the music of Thomas Tallis for Signum Records. They mop up some of the choral hymns and Responds not included in their previous volume, but the main attraction is actually Tallis’s liturgical organ music played by Andrew Benson-Wilson.

The music dates from the later years of Henry VIII and the reign of Queen Mary 1. There are no surviving English organs from this period, so Benson-Wilson goes for the next best thing, the chamber organ in the late-medieval chapel of Knole, a vast country house in Kent – arguably the oldest playable organ in England, probably dating from the early seventeenth century. It has four ranks of oak pipes, a foot pump and occasional breathing problems. Having recorded it elsewhere myself, I can say that this recording captures much of its charm, though at rather a safe distance. With the help of the distinguished scholar John Caldwell, Tallis’s keyboard pieces are slotted into an appropriate liturgical framework, alternating with chant specially reconstructed; ‘faburden’ (an English brand of improvised polyphony, from the French fauxbordon or ‘false bass’). Well worth hearing.

Simon Heighes

Early Music Forum of Scotland News Summer 2002

The eagerly awaited fifth volume in this admirable project is fascinating indeed. In addition to some ethereally beautiful singing of familiar polyphonic works, we have very convincing reconstructions of liturgical music for voices and organ in alternation. As the note points out, any such exercise involves considerable scholarship and bold decisions, and these are impressively to the fore here. Drawing where necessary upon music by Tallis’ contemporaries and reconstructions of faburden, the performers are able to give us one of the most convincing aural pictures I have come across of the likely liturgical contexts of Tallis’ organ works. Add to this the use of the earliest playable organ in England, the instrument in the private Chapel at Knole in Kent with its delightful foibles, the keyboard skills of Andrew Benson-Wilson, and the decision to have the singers recorded in situ in the Chapel, and the effect is truly magical. And as if this weren¹t enough, this intriguing disc ends with an organ tour de force in the shape of Tallis’ protracted setting of Felix namque, an Offertory chant which is also the subject of a famous Scottish Mass of the 16th century, possibly the work of Robert Carver. The volume five package is rounded off with an authoritative essay by the leading musicologist and liturgical expert, Nick Sandon. Thoroughly recommended.

D. James Ross

Classical London, July 2002

Thomas Tallis’s organ keyboard is displayed behind glass in my local church, St Alfege at Greenwich, revered as the burial place of the “Father” of English church music.  This attractive CD, which includes the small surviving output of his keyboard music (most of Tallis’s performances are thought to have been improvised) offers the music in reconstruction for alternating organ and voices. A claim is made for Tallis as ‘the greatest of 16th century. composers for ‘the sheer uncluttered beauty and drama’ of his music, and this CD guarantees pleasure.

There are good notes by Andrew Benson-Wilson, who has recorded on the oldest playable organ in England, at Knole in Kent. With foot- pumped bellows, it is ‘irascible and unpredictable’.  Not only for specialists, the whole thing is a delight, superbly played, sung and recorded, and comprehensively documented with complete words and translations.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The Organ, July 2002

Thomas Tallis’s organ keyboard is displayed behind glass in my local church, St Alfege at Greenwich, revered as the burial place of the "Father" of English church music, who served under four monarchs from Henry VIII to Elizabeth.  SIGNUM is half way through a 9-CD project to record Tallis’s surviving output in new editions, destined for publication by Cantiones Press. This scholarly production, which includes the small surviving output of his keyboard music from the Mulliner Book (most of Tallis’s performances are thought to have been improvised) offers the music in reconstruction for alternating organ and voices, and will have a special appeal to readers of The Organ. Tallis is claimed here as ‘the greatest of 16th C. composers for ‘the sheer uncluttered beauty and drama’ of his music, and this CD guarantees pleasure.

The informative notes about the keyboard music are by Andrew Benson-Wilson, who discusses problems of notation and Signum’s choice of the oldest playable organ in England, at Knole in Kent (owned during Tallis’s lifetime by Archbishop Cranmer and Henry VIII), and dating from c.1620 or even earlier.  With bellows pumped by foot, it is ‘irascible and unpredictable’, the pitch sharp (A460 Hz), with meantone temperament well suited to music of the period.  The whole thing is a delight, superbly played, sung and recorded, and comprehensively documented with complete words and translations.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Early Music News

With the appearance this year of Volume 5, Chapelle du Roi’s survey of Tallis’s output is just past the halfway mark. The newcomer is a companion to Volume 4, both having the subtitle ‘Music for the Divine Office’; three years have elapsed since the earlier disc came out, though all the choral material was recorded in l998. Buck up, Signum!

The music, thought to date from late in the reign of Henry VIII or from the time of Mary Tudor, consists of hymns and responsories for the Canonical Hours, which were the eight services from Matins to Compline celebrated in monastic houses. The booklet notes by Nick Sandon are not an easy read, but they repay close study. He tells us that the Divine Office was not confined to the monasteries, but was observed also in cathedrals and collegiate chapels, and – in abbreviated form – in royal and noble chapels too. These pieces were presumably written for the Chapel Royal, of which Tallis was a Gentleman by 1543.

There are nine responsories spread across the two discs. They alternate plainchant with polyphony, the polyphonic sections being based on the plainchant. Some are solo responsories, where the versicle is composed; others are the newer type, familiar from Taverner’s settings of Dum transisset, where the versicle is chanted. The latter are on a larger scale: any newcomer to this wonderful music could not do better than start with Loquebantur variis linguis, the penultimate item in Volume 4. Written for Vespers on the feast of the Pentecost, its rich, seven-part texture celebrates ‘the wonderful works of God’. Videte miraculum, for the feast of the Purification, is more than twice as long but no less euphonious, even ecstatic.

Whereas in the polyphonic sections of the responsories the cantus firmus is sometimes in the tenor, in the hymns it is heard in the topmost voice. The hymns are simpler than the responsories, but by no means lacking in ingenuity: Jam Christus astra ascenderat in Volume 4 even has the plainchant in canon. Four of the seven hymns are for Compline, two of them ­ Jesu salvator saeculi in Volume 4 and one of the settings of Te lucis ante terminum in Volume 5 ­ being based on the same plainchant, which itself is closely related to the melody of the second version of the latter.

The choral hymns and responsories in Volume 5 are complemented by Tallis’s organ music, most of which is liturgical. Five pieces are representatives of that charming oddity, the hymn where the odd-numbered verses are played rather than sung. Where the text warrants it, organ pieces by other 6th-century composers are included, as are reconstructions of faburden verses newly composed by John Caldwell. Thus, Ex more docte mistico has four verses of chant, two of faburden and two organ pieces by John Redford and Anon before we hear the well-known piece by Tallis, with its ear-tickling false relations.

Alistair Dixon draws out lively and impassioned singing from his Chapelle du Roi, the only defect being an occasional rawness when the male altos are on the top line, and he shows a wholly admirable grasp of structure and balance. Andrew Benson-Wilson is equally skilled in coaxing the wheezy old organ at Knole into life and in playing with fleetness and clarity. Sandon’s notes are supplemented in Volume 5 by good articles from Caldwell and Benson-Wilson. This month’s booklet gremlin is to be found at work in Volume 4, where the last three verses of the hymn Sermone blando are missing.

Richard Lawrence

Medieval Music and Arts Foundation

The latest volume of Chapelle du Roi’s complete Tallis series features his organ music. There’s some enjoyable music there, relatively little known. While the recorded dynamics do not exactly feature the organ, historical organs would not have been particularly loud, and the alternating singing is nicely done.

Todd McComb

Early Music Review, Sept 2002

The vocal items are the best performances in this series so far; the opening high-voice piece, Audivi vocem de coelo, is not a typical sample, but the next item, the responsory Candidi facti sunt, shows a successful balance between parts, shaped (but not fussy) melodic lines, and a well-judged tempo. Much of the disc is devoted to hymns, including the short organ settings. I’m puzzled why they have to sound so high.

The major organ work, Felix namque II, is a substantial (12′ 29″) and tricky piece to bring off. Before hearing it, I played it through (needless to say, very badly) to remind myself of the problems, and am pleased to say that Andrew solves them brilliantly. Very occasionally there is a wobble of tempo, but the complex mensural problems are handled with confidence and conviction.

Clifford Bartlett

Choir & Organ, September & October 2002, *****

These subtle, refined, almost lofty interpretations seem to come directly from the devotional heart of Tallis’s choral hymns and responds. The singing is shapely and serene with a satisfying edge, and the recorded sound is generous without obscuring detail. The disc is completed by performances of liturgical organ music, played with style and sensitivity by Andrew Benson-Wilson on the historic instrument in the Chapel at Knole House, with the choir providing alternate verses of hymns such as Iste confessor.

Rebecca Tavener

Early Music Today – October & November 2002

Chapelle du Roi, directed by Alistair Dixon, has recently released the fifth in a series of nine recordings covering the extant output of Thomas Tallis over five decades. This volume, prepared largely with reference to new editions, contains polyphonic hymns and responses for the Divine Office, and some lesser-known liturgical organ music. The performances of the choral pieces, which owe much to their plainchant background, reflect detailed attention to performance practice issues and convey a real sense of Tallis’ craftsmanship and his music’s uncluttered beauty. The keyboard music is nicely articulated, although the 16th-century Knole House organ (chosen for the recording as it is similar to the organ that Tallis would have known at the Chapel Royal) sounds tired and uninspiring. The ranks are out of tune with each other, with the two foot pipes generally flat on an organ pitched sharp at 460Hz; a hefty price to pay for authenticity.

Sarah Noon

  1. Audivi Vocem de Coelo – – [3:29]
  2. Candidi Facti Sunt – – [4:32]
  3. Honor Virtus et Potestas – – [5:49]
  4. Homo Quidam Fecit Coenam – – [5:05]
  5. Te Lucis Ferial – – [1:35]
  6. Te Lucis Festal – – [2:07]
  7. Natus Est nobis hodie – – [0:52]
  8. Veni Redemptor genitum – – [7:35]
  9. Jam Lucis orto sidere – – [4:04]
  10. Ex more docti mistico – – [7:13]
  11. Ecce tempus idoneum – – [4:12]
  12. Magnificat & Clarifica me pater – – [4:33]
  13. Clarifica me pater (II) – – [1:03]
  14. Clarifica me pater (III) – – [1:10]
  15. Gloria Tibi Trinitas – – [1:50]
  16. Alleluia: Per te Dei genitrix – – [5:01]
  17. Felix Namque (II) – – [12:29]