Review: Tenebrae Consort: Medieval Chant and Tallis Lamentations

As part of Portsmouth Festivities, the internationally acclaimed Tenebrae Consort presented an impressive programme under the direction of Nigel Short.

The concert featured a small ensemble of handpicked singers, comprising a countertenor, two tenors, a baritone and a bass, who focused on repertoire originally conceived for consort performance.

The singers were well-blended, disciplined and balanced, yet able to bring out some lovely contrasts of mood, as befits their core values of “passion and precision”.

Nigel writes, “It’s such a pleasure for us to be able to perform this early repertoire in a space such as Portsmouth Cathedral, where the acoustics as well as the physical layout of the building allow us to really make the most of the space, processing through the building so that the audience is immersed in the sound.

“This programme is based on a disc that we released back in 2014, and it’s always a delight to be able to re-visit it. Tenebrae normally performs with up to 19 singers, but in the case of this programme a smaller consort enables us to achieve a real clarity of texture and also an intimacy in what is meant to be music for contemplation.

“The texts of the various works are all taken from different points in the Christian liturgy. Much of it is music for Compline, the service which marks the ending of the day; In manus tuas, for example, which we performed in two settings by John Sheppard, asks the Lord God to keep watch over us while we sleep.

“We also performed Thomas Tallis’ beautiful Lamentations of Jeremiah, which are set to the first two texts of the night office performed on Maundy Thursday in Holy Week. All this wonderful polyphony was interspersed with Gregorian plainchant, which formed the larger part of the monastic offices of the day and which, in the context of this programme, provided a thoughtful contrast to the masterful polyphonic textures of Tallis and his contemporaries.”

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