Thomas Tallis: The Complete Works – Volume 9


Signum Records are delighted to present the final volume of The Complete Works of Thomas Tallis.

The final release explores the most obscure and enigmatic corner of Tallis’s output – his secular music. His profession as church musician and member of the Chapel Royal did not require him to write secular songs or pieces, yet some works may have been written for the Tudor court. Other works are thought to have been written for generations of choir boys, who were assisted with their training by the composer. Plays and performances outside of the choirboy’s obligation were popular, as well as instrumental consort music and keyboard pieces associated with their training. Tallis is likely to have been given the opportunity to write his secular works for these occasions.

Tallis’s music was admired and used by others far beyond the Chapel Royal and the court. Some of his intended sacred choral works are included on this recording in other guises, arranged by musicians with performance intentions very different to that of the church. His reputation of greatness amongst his friends and contemporaries is reflected in William Byrd’s elegy Ye sacred muses, where he echoes the sentiments of others with the words "Tallis is dead, and Music dies". This musical tribute has justifiably become one of Byrd’s most popular works.

Volume 9 of The Complete Works is a double CD release, marking the end of this popular series. Alistair Dixon has realised the project, and directed his choir Chapelle du Roi throughout the earlier volumes. Musicians featured on this final disc are: Andrew Benson-Williams (organ), Laurence Cummings (virginals), the ensemble Charivari Agréable, Lynda Sayce (lute), and Stephen Taylor (counter tenor)


What people are saying

"The consort pieces … are exceedingly bright and warm … Lynda Sayce contributes an astonishing performance …  the very simple and pure interpretation by Stephen Taylor is most affecting"

Early Music America

  "in this splendid series … Laurence Cummings … brings  … (the ) music wonderfully to life"

BBC Music Magazine

    "this recording is a collection of delights … including the smooth sound of Stephen Taylor’s countertenor voice. …  a splendid final offering by Chapelle du Roi"


      "With the issue of this double CD, we reach the triumphant conclusion of one of the most fascinating and enjoyable complete works projects of recent times"

Early Music Scotland

        "a successful conclusion to the series, containing a good deal of previously unrecorded music"

Early Music Today

Charivari Agrèable, Lynda Sayce, Laurence Cummings, Stephen Taylor, Andrew Benson Wilson

Release date:1st Nov 2004
Order code:SIGCD042
Barcode: 635212004227

Early Music America, Spring 2005

Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) was a church musician throughout his career, in an era when church musicians and the guys in the house band worked quite separately. What little we have of his instrumental output falls into four categories: liturgical organ works, secular keyboard pieces, consort music and secular songs. Volume 9 in this complete set from Signum covers all but the liturgical organ works, which appeared in Volume 5. Because of this, it contains a far greater stylistic variety than the previous volumes.

The consort pieces, as played here by Charivari Agréable, are exceedingly bright and warm. Of the five, two are In nomine settings, the first of this English instrumental form known to have been written. The keyboard pieces get clear and thoughtful presentations by Laurence Cummings on both a historic virginals and a historic single-string harpsichord, and by Andrew Benson-Wilson on a 17th-century organ.

The two major works are based on the chant Felix namque. Lynda Sayce contributes an astonishing performance of a lute transcription of the first Felix namque, taken from a manuscript of Matthew Holmes. It is long and dense, presaging John Dowland’s great fantasies. The songs, with lute (and, in one case, viol consort) accompaniment, are another world. They are short, with breathtaking melodic inventiveness. The very simple and pure interpretation by Stephen Taylor is most affecting in Tu nimirum.

The liner notes, primarily by producer Alistair Dixon, are very good as far as they go; but much is missing, and not all of it can be retrieved from Signum’s website. One hopes that later releases of the recording, or at least of the web site, will be more helpful. That said, either Sayce’s Felix namque or Taylor’s Tu nimirum alone are worth the price.

Stephen Dydo

Early Music Forum of Scotland, 19th October 2004

With the issue of this double CD, we reach the triumphant conclusion of one of the most fascinating and enjoyable complete works projects of recent times. From the appearance of the first disc back in 1997 featuring a specially commissioned portrait of Tallis, it was clear that this was going to be a thorough exercise, but it has turned out to be so much more. While the earlier discs featured largely choral music superbly sung by the Chapelle du Roi, this final instalment is by necessity a bit of a rag-bag of smaller secular and largely instrumental pieces. With that same thoroughness which has distinguished the earlier recordings, no stone is left unturned, and even works with only tenuous ascriptions to Tallis are included. As this has necessitated the inclusion of a supplementary disc, it must have been tempting to forget about some of these dubious pieces, but instead Signum has made a virtue of a necessity and included four works recorded in association with volumes 5 and 6, but which couldn’t be incorporated at that stage. This allows the lovely Knole Chapel organ and the Chapelle du Roi to take a well-deserved final bow. The latter sing an alternatim Litany for the reformed liturgy, while Andrew Benson-Wilson on the former provides performances of the first setting of Felix namque and two charming versets of doubtful authorship. While its late inclusion means we have no text for the Litany, the clear enunciation of the choir permits full enjoyment. The main disc is equally satisfying, with some lovely viol playing from Charivari Agréable, mellow but with a crisp bite which clearly delineates Tallis interweaving lines. Laurence Cumming’s choice of a domestic acoustic for the virginal and harpsichord pieces gives them a pleasing intimacy – the choice of appropriate acoustics has been a consistent virtue of this series – and Lucy Sayce s impressive tour-de-force reading of the lute transcription by Matthew Holmes of Tallis Felix namque I is a treat. The disc concludes with a string of lute songs, featuring the expressive alto voice of Chapelle du Roi member Stephen Taylor. These concluding discs proves as thoroughly enjoyable as the others in the series, and if you haven t already invested in them all, I can only thoroughly recommend that you do so!

D James Ross November 2004

This is perhaps the most problematical of the entire series of Thomas Tallis’s complete works – at least from the listener’s point of view. Like all ‘complete works’ there comes a time for gathering up the residual pieces that may or may not come up to the standard of the composer’s more ‘popular’ repertoire. Often it includes works that are not understood to be in the composer’s prevailing style. Sometimes this can result in a very uneven disc – full of odds and ends. It may include pieces that ought to be forgotten, or at best given only an occasional airing. Yet on the other side of the coin, it can be extremely interesting to engage with pieces that are virtually unknown to the majority of listeners and sometimes may be receiving their one (and only) performance.

I must confess that I am a bit of a train-spotter. I would rather have a composer’s work even if it is not the best of his output. Yet the arguments about second and third rate works do not apply with this disc. It would, of course, be over-egging the pudding to state that every track on this CD is vital to our understanding of Tudor music in general or Tallis in particular. However this double disc set from Signum fills in some of the gaps that have become apparent as I have studied the Tallis discography. The programme notes declare that this volume explores some of the most obscure and enigmatic of the composer’s works. We must not allow any negative notion of ‘obscure’ and ‘enigmatic’ to put us off.

However there is a health warning – it is not possible to listen to this disc at a single sitting. It is not fair on the listener’s sensibilities or the composer’s reputation to plough through some twenty seven tracks of varied music. Some of these works are only 38 seconds long and some last a good quarter of an hour.

It is not necessary to detail each track on this disc in this review. It is much more important to get across the view that this recording is a vital part of our understanding of Tallis’s music. It allows us to see a side of the composer that is not normally understood. There is a mix of sacred and secular, vocal, instrumental and keyboard presented in a reasonably logical manner.

This suggests that it is better to explore sections of this CD rather than the whole. I would tend to begin with the songs for counter-tenor and lute. After this it would be refreshing to listen to the harpsichord and virginal numbers. The consort music should be approached as a unity. The organ music is perhaps the hardest part of this CD to come to grips with. It is not that the music is uninteresting or difficult – it is just that most people, even organ enthusiasts, will find the somewhat ‘spare’ style takes a little getting used to. It is all so very different to Bach, Widor and Howells!

I have listened to the other eight volumes of this landmark recording project. It has been an instructive as well as a moving and spiritually uplifting experience. There is no doubt that Thomas Tallis is one of the most important British composers. In fact it would be churlish not to further include him in the pantheon of all-time great composers – alongside Victoria, Orlando Lassus and Palestrina.

The presentation is excellent. The sound quality produced by this small label is second to none. The programme notes are comprehensive and tell listeners all they could wish to know about this relatively unknown music. Would that all CD companies were so thorough in their scholarship!

The playing is based on rigorous study. I understand that a new performing edition was prepared for use on these recordings. The playing and singing is absolutely stunning and I have no reason to doubt that this is and will probably remain the definitive account of these little known and rediscovered works. The performance of the ‘consort’ music is by Charivari Agréable assisted by various soloists as appropriate. It is impossible to fault this performance. Every nuance and every detail is attended to. I imagine that Tallis himself never heard his music so well performed.

One of the joys of these discs is the use of genuine historical instruments. The organ, which features in many tracks, is in the late medieval chapel of Knole in Kent. This is believed to be the oldest organ in England, having been originally installed around 1623. It is obviously later than Tallis, but probably represents the kind of instrument he would have been familiar with. Knole Chapel was owned by both Henry VIII and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, so the setting is ideal for these recordings.

The virginals are all period instruments dating from the late 16th century and the harpsichord was built in Italy around 1590. The lutes are modern.

One last word. There is a ‘bonus’ disc with this CD with four additional pieces. One of these works, the Litany, was omitted from a previous volume due to lack of space. Two short ‘Versets’ for organ are believed to be dubious works and the last work on the bonus disk is a version of ‘Felix Namque’ for organ. It is included on disc one of this release in two versions – one for lute and the other for virginal.

John France

The Gramophone, December 2004


Limber up for Tallis year – 2005 marks the 500th anniversary of his birth – with this final volume in Signum’s unprecedented ‘complete works’ cycle. There’s much to delight in this clever programme of chamber works and songs, off the beaten track from his favourite anthems.


‘A collection of delights brings this important series to a splendid close’


This final volume of the Complete Works gathers together music for viol consort, virginals, harpsichord, lute and organ, and a small selection of solo songs with lute accompaniment. Certain items, in new guises or saved from oblivion but the ingenious and painstaking efforts of various efforts of various editors, appear for the first time. Particularly noteworthy is the intricate lute version of Felix namque from the early tablature of Matthew Holmes. The technical problems encountered led the editor to wonder whether Holmes had intended it for the lute-like opharion.


John Milsom’s brilliant booklet-notes throw light on aspects of the life and training of the Chapel Royal choristers; it was customary for choristers to study instruments, viols for example, at St Paul’s, or keyboard instruments at Notre-Dame in Paris. Were those keyboard pieces, built like the In Nomine around a cantus firmus, composed perhaps, for didactic purposes? And what about arrangements derived from choral works? The Lesson: Two partes in one, as well as A poynte, must surely have been intended for teaching.

Apart from its intriguing historical aspects, this recording is a collection of delights, with its many varied timbres, including the smooth sound of Stephen Taylor’s countertenor voice. Indeed, that voice concludes the disc and the series, most appropriately, with Byrd’s elegy for his friend and teacher ‘Tallis is dead. and music dies’.

But not quite; there’s an unexpected bonus!  A second disc in the package as four items omitted through lack of space from earlier volumes in the series; two organ versets, a Felix namque, and a choral Litany in English – a splendid final offering by Chapelle du Roi.

Mary Berry

BBC Music Magazine.  Performance **** Sound *****

This final volume in this splendid series of recordings comprises Tallis’s consort music, keyboard works, songs for choirboy plays and his various studies in counterpoint. Moreover, on a bonus disc we have some litany music (settings of prayers) that, for reasons of space, could not be included in Vol. 6, plus three organ works, all of them nicely played by Andrew Benson–Wilson on the wonderfully evocative instrument at Knole House near Sevenoaks in Kent.

The consort music is presented in alert and assured style by the viol players of Charivari Agreable, and even in the rather odd Salvator mundi they do not quite lose their poise. The keyboard section begins bizarrely, with a fiendishly difficult lute transcription of Felix namque II, rather than the keyboard version itself (heard in volume 5). Such is Lynda Sayce’s struggle to overcome its difficulties that this fascinating work seems to emerge as music only fitfully and gradually. Laurence Cummings, by contrast, brings sometimes pedestrian music wonderfully to life by his resourceful interpretations; his delicately textured account of the ‘study’ Per haec nos, his rhetorical presentation of Remember not and his narrative style in Like as the doleful dove are all exemplary. In the delightful songs that bring the disc to a close the long phrases sometimes defeat the breath control of the singer, but in the final track Byrd’s lament on Tallis’s death brings voice and viols together in transporting harmonies.

Anthony Pryer

Early Music Today, October/ November 2005

Volume 9 completes the ambitious ‘complete works’ project by Chapelle du Roi. That it is the last recording in the series explains both the slightly eclectic programme and the fact that the second disc in the two-CD set is barely 27 minutes long. Nonetheless, it provides a successful conclusion to the series, containing a good deal of previously unrecorded music. Among the gems are reconstructions of two untexted pieces which later formed the basis for three well-known motes: Salvator mundi (II), O sacrum convivium and Absterge Domine; there are also some fine keyboard works, a handful of charming reconstructed lute songs, and a peculiarly difficult lute arrangement of the keyboard piece Felix Namque (II). All this is executed skilfully by a fine line-up of performers; Chapelle du Roi appear just once, for the simple but effective five-part litany which was left out of volume 6; it is good to have a decent recording of this.

Matthew O’Donovan

  1. In nomine I – – [2:03]
  2. In nomine II – – [3:32]
  3. A Solfing Song – – [2:10]
  4. Salvator Mundi (trio) – – [1:58]
  5. Fantasia – – [4:20]
  6. Felix namque II – – [12:10]
  7. Felix namque I – – [10:46]
  8. When shall my sorrowful sighing slack – – [1:40]
  9. Like as the doleful dove – – [1:40]
  10. O ye tender babes – – [1:32]
  11. Purge me, O Lord – – [1:26]
  12. Per haec nos – – [1:48]
  13. A Point – – [0:37]
  14. Lesson: two partes in one – – [5:24]
  15. Remember not, O Lord God – – [3:19]
  16. Per haec nos – – [1:19]
  17. A Point – – [0:38]
  18. Lesson: two partes in one – – [5:24]
  19. Tu nimirum – – [2:00]
  20. When shall my sorrowful sighing slack – – [4:35]
  21. Like as the doleful dove – – [1:40]
  22. O ye tender babes – – [1:36]
  23. Ye sacred muses (Byrd) – – [3:26]
  24. Litany – – [14:29]
  25. Verset I – – [0:54]
  26. Verset II – – [0:44]
  27. Felix namque I – – [10:33]