The Tallis Scholars offered meditative repose at their concert at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception on Friday. Presented by the Friends of Chamber Music, this world-famous, highly respected ensemble brought beautifully wrought vocal blend to its concert celebrating Advent and the events surrounding the birth of Christ.
Founder and director Peter Phillips, who has led the group since 1973, conducted with clear gestures, honing phrases and adjusting balance. The 10-voice ensemble drew a full house for their 10th appearance with the series, the audience spilling over into the pews surrounding the central dais and filling the choir loft.
The ensemble, devoted to historically accurate and musically fulfilling repertoire, offered a program of contemplative and overtly low impact, an alternative to the holiday’s typical glitz.
Although the group specializes in Renaissance polyphony, its repertoire encompasses centuries of a cappella works, represented in this program by modern-day composer Arvo Pärt. His “Seven Anthiphons” are a mastery of spatial and harmonic voicings, whether the captivating dissonances of “O Spross aus Isais Wurzel” or the intensity of the inner voices in “O König aller Völker.” The beloved “Magnificat” followed, its steady drone lending an organ-like foundational presence.
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Pärt’s “I am the true vine,” on the second portion, was marvelously well done, the intricate texture built from complicated phrasing as different voices took over every few words.
The ensemble chose two selections from John Sheppard, writing 400 years before Pärt. The first half’s “Sacris solemniis” emphasized the bass voices in the hymn statement. With all the voices added the glorious soprano voices overtook the texture with purity and resonance. Later, Sheppard’s “Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria” featured a clear tenor anchoring the flow of text, delicious tension from the dissonant passing tones and the sopranos again gilding the ensemble.
The program also included work by the ensemble’s namesake, Thomas Tallis, contemporary to Sheppard. They chose settings of “Missa Puer natus” based on the plain chant “Puer natus est nobis” (Unto us a boy is born), the Gloria engaging staggered, overlapping rhythms, resounding “Hosannas” in the Sanctus and Benediction, and a calming finish in the gently undulating treatment of the Agnus Dei.
An encore from the late 17th century completed the program with a lively variety of effects from Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla. This was a jubilant, declamatory finish, the ensemble producing their fullest sound of the evening.