Now in his early forties, the ex-Chapel Royal singer, choral director, music editor and publisher and recording executive Alistair Dixon constitutes something of a Renaissance revival in his own person. His major achievement since founding his eight-voice Chapelle du Roi in 1997 has been to record and release the entire output of Thomas Tallis in a glorious 10-CD set on his Signum label earlier this year.
This Christmas concert comprised substantial items of Tallis and his 16th-century contemporary John Sheppard interspersed with medieval and 16th-century seasonal items such as the anonymous Angelus ad Virginem, and the ubiquitous Coventry Carol. The dry acoustic of St John's is surprisingly unhelpful to small choirs, and there were moments of less than ideal intonation and vocal blend in some shorter numbers.
It was in the longer, more elaborately contrapuntal items that the singers more nearly hit their stride. In the ornate Gloria of Sheppard's festal Mass Cantare, the interweaving of enormously long melodic lines duly generated that slightly fevered ecstasy that Queen Mary's brief return to Rome seems to have drawn from sympathetic Tudor composers. We heard it again later in the programme in the grandly swelling paragraphs of his Respond Reges Tharsis. Between these, Tallis's settings of the Anglican prayer book Christmas psalm sequence sounded cool, sober and measured indeed.
Tallis had to negotiate three life-or-death religious swings between Catholicism and Anglicanism over his working life. The two final items reminded us that he could be as convincingly fervent in the Marian manner as Sheppard. The Candlemass Respond Videte Miraculum, evoking the Virgin pregnant with Christ, unfolded its six-voice texture with a cumulative awe.
The richly varied seven-voice Agnus Dei of the Mass Puer natus est nobis was possibly composed in late 1554 when Mary I believed herself pregnant. Its final "dona nobis pacem" settles into an astonishing, trance-like lullaby of revolving repetitions - an intimation of eternity that Dixon and his singers brought off beautifully.Reuse content