Notes 62.4 (2006) 1042-1048
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The very fine Ensemble de la Rue has gathered an interesting and attractive program for this, its third album. By opening the disc with John Taverner's majestic votive antiphon Ave Dei Patris filia, the group demonstrates both its unwillingness to be cowed by tremendous technical demands and its ability to communicate powerfully the emotional depth of Taverner's music; the sopranos' almost effortless handling of this work's bruising tessitura is particularly noteworthy, and helps make this performance a deeply moving tour de force. The program then continues with two motets composed by the ensemble's namesake, Pierre de la Rue: Ave Regina and Salve Mater salvatoris. The latter, an ode to one of de la Rue's benefactors thinly disguised as a typical Marian motet, is a long and texturally complex work, while Ave Regina uses many of the same compositional techniques within the confines of a smaller musical structure. Josquin Desprez' richly emotional setting of Plaxit autem David follows, and is again performed with both authority and sensitivity. It is at this point, however, that the program takes a slightly startling turn into the twentieth century, with the disc's title piece: a three-part work (with a brief prelude) by Stephen Adams titled Memory Pieces. Based on a rather surrealistic text by Ania Walwicz, this composition is both physically demanding and conceptually fascinating, dealing with questions of memory both political and personal. The music is tonal, but in a somewhat slippery way, and although it is quite beautiful in its own way it does not necessarily fit comfortably alongside the works by Taverner, Desprez and de la Rue. Nevertheless, the singers acquit themselves marvelously on this fiendishly difficult piece and imbue it with a luminosity of tone that is really quite special. Recorded in the sympathetic acoustic of the Faith and Life Chapel of Augustana Faculty in Camrose, Canada, all of these performances shimmer with warmth, and the disc is heartily recommended to all collections. [End Page 1042]
The seed that eventually grew into this magnificent nine-volume boxed set was planted in 1995, when the newly-formed Chapelle du Roi presented the complete works of Thomas Tallis in a series of six concerts. It was subsequently decided that the choir would record the entire repertoire as well, releasing discs at a rate of roughly one per year. Ten years later, this box makes it possible to purchase all of the discs at once (though not, unfortunately, at any significant discount: U. S. shoppers can buy the individual discs for $16–$19 each, or the boxed set for between $160 and $230, depending on one's choice of retailer). This ambitious project not only called for a significant investment of rehearsal and recording time, but also required director Alistair Dixon to prepare new performing editions of several previously unpublished works, all of which will be made available commercially in the future through the Cantiones Press. Signum Records, now called Signum Classics, was founded especially for this recording project. The result of this tremendous investment of time, effort, and capital is a stunning musical achievement—not only in terms of scale and completeness, but in musical quality as well. The Chapelle du Roi achieves a warmth and clarity of sound that is impressive in its own right, but there is also a richness and depth to the choir's tone that is unusual in a one-voice-per-part ensemble. The unforgiving nature of this arrangement makes the group's tonal purity, for example on the psalm setting Blessed are those that be undefiled, all the more thrilling. Perhaps most exciting, though, is the choir's spectacular performance of the forty-voice motet Spem in alium, which is an unalloyed triumph. On a composition usually performed with a certain level of weightiness and bombast, Dixon elicits an unusually delicate and detailed performance from his group without sacrificing any of the composition...