Melbourne 2016: THE TALLIS SCHOLARS

Divine music in all senses of the word and experience

By Leeor Adar

Born under Peter Phillips‘ directorship, The Tallis Scholars wonderfully transcend the passage of time and deliver audiences the English Renaissance polyphony.

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Since 1973, Phillips has been proving that polyphony draws audiences in the droves. If anything is to be said for Hamer Hall on that balmy Melbourne night, the audiences of varying generations filled the seats to indulge in these beautiful harmonies. Sixteenth-century composer Thomas Tallis, a man who won the patronage of the powerful and elite (and also held the monopoly of printing music), inspired the title of Phillips’ troupe.

Phillips challenges his singers and convention by having only two singers perform a part. Phillips aptly states that two singers for a part are ‘more precise’ and ‘vulnerable’. The fact that the performers must work harder to crystallise their sound is an even greater credit to their ability and to their director. We were treated to some of the most ethereal sounds a human voice could deliver; I was elsewhere for much of this performance, hoisted by these angelic voices to higher ground. The mysticism inspired by Catholicism clearly still affects audiences today through the sacred verses performed.

Phillips began the night with Peter Philips’ Cecilia Virgo, a piece whose text was inspired by the patroness of music, Cecilia. The piece is a perfect opener to the polyphonies that come after, signalling the skill of the alternating groups of voices. Pieces I felt that highlighted the skill of the Scholars and delivered the most compelling music to me would have to be Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah, the modern composer John Travener’s As one who has slept, and William Byrd’s Tribue Domine.

Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah I felt captured the melancholy of the destruction of Jerusalem at a greater depth than Dominique Phinot’s, which Phillips has included after Tallis’ in the program. This was an exercise I suspect in contrasting how the Lamentations could be performed differently, with Phinot’s polychoral style dominating his piece.

The inclusion of Travener’s 1996 As one who has slept was a beautiful nod to a modern composer. The piece carries with it the weight of tremendous mysticism – the varying tones that take us to sudden and melodious highs and lows were a beacon of light in the evening for me. At one point I felt chills in my body: a testament to how overwhelming choral music can be.

The Tribue Domine by one of Tallis’ contemporaries, Byrd, closed the official part of the evening. With soaring voices that harmonised so beautifully, audiences were guaranteed to leave the Hamer Hall in an otherworldly state.

While Phillips indulged us with one last encore, I was adament it will not be the last time I journey to listen to this marvellous choral music.

The Tallis Scholars performed at Hamer Hall on November 6, 2016.

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