The Tudor Choir sings Tallis and Byrd

By Philippa Kiraly

The Tudor Choir has always aimed for the pure tone of an English cathedral choir with its typical sound of boys’ clear treble voices and often male altos. Its latest offering, “All the Queen’s Men,” performed at Blessed Sacrament Church Saturday night, was no exception, and the music, composed during the religious swings of the 1550s to about 1575, ranged from the highly complex works in Latin preferred under Catholic Queen Mary to the simpler plain English preferred under Protestant Elizabeth 1.

Much of it was by two of the era’s great composers, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, who between them covered a century of church music, tailoring their work to the prevailing religious winds. Others were John Sheppard, whose “Ave maris stella” was a highlight wiith its plainchant interludes, and William Mundy.

In the past, director Doug Fullington has given an excellent introduction to the music in the notes. This time, he chose to have choir members give a descriptive sentence or two in between the works, sometimes having several members adding more information one after another.

I hope he will change back to the former method, as this caused the program to seem fragmented when combined with audience applause after each not-so-long work.

One of the pleasures of this choir is its accurate pitch and clarity, so that all the interweaving lines of the music are both easy to follow and also create the lovely changing harmonies intended by the composer.

This church is quite reverberant, and the choir’s diction made it possible, with the words in the program, to be able to understand what they were singing much of the time, or at the least, where they were in the music.

Much of the first half of the program was prayerful, mostly quite slow and steady, while the second half included more works of praise, with the last one, Byrd’s “Tribue Domine” the most eloquent.
All of it, however, could have used more conviction in the singing. This music is supposed to soar, its glorious harmonies reaching the roof, the words being lifted to God on the wings of the music.

Anyone who watched the Royal wedding a couple of weeks ago will remember the small choirboys singing their hearts out, singing with their whole selves. The music they performed, by more recent British composers, was not as great as that by these long ago composers, but it had that fervor, that soaring aspect in spades, and as such was thrilling to hear.

The Tudor Choir’s singing did not soar. It sounded contemplative, beautiful, but it didn’t stir the spirit. No passion. The second half was a tad more animated than the first but still didn’t bring enough life to the music. In consequence, some of it sounded quite dull, and it really isn’t.

It might have helped to have more singers. Twelve is very few to fill a church the size of Blessed Sacrament Church, and while the four sopranos did wonderfully well, they couldn’t approximate four and twenty choirboys, let alone the larger complements of other voices. They might have sounded more exciting in a smaller venue.

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