Chapelle du Roi / Dixon, St John's Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

What a relief to come in to the warmth of St John's Smith Square. And what a relief to escape the shenanigans of Christmas consumerism for a couple of hours of bliss.

As pondered in the programme notes, it is puzzling how infrequently the music of Thomas Tallis is performed. His long career straddled the key moments of changing religious allegiances Tallis quietly continuing to produce sublime music whatever the beliefs of the reigning monarch.

The Chapel Royal accompanied royal households at major occasions and, to this day, it officiates at royal christenings, marriages and funerals. Tallis became associated with it in the mid-16th century. In Christmas at the Chapel Royal, Alistair Dixon devised a programme based on the Christmas of 1554, when Queen Mary believed she was pregnant with a male heir and England had been absolved from the great heresy. Dixon speculates that two of Tallis's greatest works, the large-scale motet "Suscipe Quaeso" and the mass "Puer natus est", were written to celebrate these two events.

That Tallis dominated this nine-strong, a cappella concert is of no surprise, given that Chapelle du Roi has recorded his entire work. But for me, the six-part writing of "Videte Miraculum", concerned with the miracle of the mother of the Lord, was worth the entire programme. This is Tallis at his greatest: the gentleness and tenderness of the languid, undulating texture, with its striking harmonic "scrunches" as polyphonic lines collide, marvellously executed by three female sopranos and five male voices resonating in the gratefully appropriate acoustic, made one glad to be alive.

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