Last night I attended the great English vocal ensemble Tallis Scholars’ performance in Toronto’s new Koener Hall. The program includes Josqin des Pres (Missa de beata Virgine), John Nesbett (Magnificat), Thomas Tallis (Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter) and William Byrd (Ye sacred muses; Tribulationes civitatum; Vigilate). This is a long-anticipated concert for me, for I have been in deep love with their recording of Plastrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli for years.

For me, listening to Renaissance polyphony is a very sensual experience, and I was fully rewarded last night. The lush a cappella singing kept reminding me that the monks and nuns of many centuries ago, while leading a life of celibacy, in fact enjoyed a most sensuous life imaginable. Coming with this sensuality music is the unperturbedness of the 10 singers (7 men, 3 women) and their director Peter Philips, all in perfect black. For some reason, I suddenly recalled Fou Lei’s observation on the English character: “ … under their coolness and calmness, there is a volcano waiting to explode  – look what happens in Shakespeare’s tragedies!”

It is a shame that the religious context and its assumed austerity prevented the fellow Torontonians from fully demonstrating their appreciation.  After all, this is a secular concert.

Here is a video of Tallis Scholars performing William Byrd’s Vigilate, the final one on last night’s program:

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