Best of the Renaissance
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Audio CD, June 15, 1999
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As hateful and usually untrue as most "Best of" collections are, this one is the real thing. You actually do get two hours and 20 minutes of Renaissance music performed so exquisitely, so correctly, and so passionately that it's as if an entire era in music makes itself understood through these CDs. The Tallis Scholars are as good as it gets in this repertoire. In addition to getting Allegri's gorgeous Miserere, you'll find Thomas Tallis's 40-part (40!) Spem in alium, some wonderfully weird and dissonant Responsories by Gesualdo, Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli (the "how-to" piece of the Renaissance popes, who demanded that the words be understood), and various other works. This stuff is like a finely woven tapestry and should be listened to bits at a time--it's amazingly rich and worth it. --Robert Levine
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Top Customer Reviews
Once you accept "The Best of the Renaissance" for what it is - "Best Sacred Vocal Music of the 16th Century" - you can better enjoy its remarkable assemblage of High Renaissance polyphony. The first disc in particular is quite astonishing. The Scholars lead off with their signature performance of Allegri's "Miserere" - actually a Baroque-era composition in Renaissance "learned style." The Scholars brilliantly convey the "call-and-response" effect of dual choirs through exquisitely crafted acoustics. Turn this one up, turn off the lights, close your eyes, and you're in the Sistine Chapel!
The Scholars follow "Miserere" with an equally impressive performance of a work by their namesake Thomas Tallis - the 40-voice motet "Spem in alium." If "Miserere" hasn't overwhelmed your senses, this one will.
Two virtuoso Mass cycles follow: William Byrd's "Mass for Five Voices" and Josquin's "Missa Pange lingua." The former conveys a sublime, otherworldly beauty, while the latter is a superior example of the style of pervasive imitation that Josquin and his contemporaries pioneered.
The selections on Disc One are so impressive that Disc Two disappoints by comparison. The second set is dominated by two composers I never quite warmed to: Carlo Gesualdo and Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina. Gesualdo was better known for his chromatic, genre-busting madrigals. His "Tenebrae Responses for Holy Thursday" are by contrast quite pleasing, but it's odd to hear sacred music written by a man who killed his wife and her lover. Palestrina's music achieves a sort of static beauty, but lacks forward motion. His "Missa Papae Marcelli" allegedly "saved" sacred polyphony, but arguably watered down the genre in its attempt to appease papal demands for simpler music.
The highlight of Disc 2 is Josquin's lovely "Ave Maria," a motet that provides yet another example of the Franco-Flemish composer's mastery of canonic forms.
"The Best of the Renaissance" expertly compiles the Tallis Scholars' best performances. Those looking for a comprehensive overview of the music of the Renaissance should be aware of its limitations, however.
Although I am a sort of purist who hates when people say they listen to classical music just to relax, I find this CD set is perfect for inspiring reflection and relaxation. So, if you're looking for good music to relax to, this would be an excellent purchase.
The same goes if you're looking for some great Renaissance music. However, the term "Best of the Renaissance" may be a bit of a misnomer; the CD does not include a vast array of music from the said era. This collection is solely /a cappella/ music. Perhaps a more fitting title would be "The Best of Renaissance Choral Music." If you're looking for a broad sampling of music from this time period in one CD collection, this may not be for you. Nevertheless, if you want well performed choral music by some great composers, I recommend this CD to both Renaissance neophytes and aficionados without reservation.
This CD does a superb job of giving us bits and pieces of 200 years of music, spanning from the turn of the 15th century and Josquin Desprez to the very late Renaissance and Allegri's incomparable Miserere Me. The one reason to choose this CD over the Silver offering is the fact that this one contains 3 whole masses - Byrd, Josquin, and Palestrina; this allows for some delightful comparison of 3 masses composed at different times and under differing circumstances in this era.
Enough said - do yourself a favour and have a listen - you will not regret it!