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Puer natus est

The Arts Desk enjoys Puer natus est

Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk

Puer natus est (A Boy is Born)” is the title of a one-minute plainchant which Thomas Tallis used as the basis of his Christmas mass, sadly incomplete. Three complete movements survive and are programmed in this exquisitely sung recital, interspersed with music by Tallis’s contemporaries. Tallis wrote the work for a seven-part vocal ensemble, giving the textures an incomparable richness and warmth. This is about as far away from conventional seasonal fare as you can get, but it’s mesmerising, with the voices of young choir Stile Antico immaculately tuned and bathed in a radiant church acoustic.

The Tallis pieces have a rhapsodic, improvisatory feel, and they contrast well with William Byrd’s four works composed for Advent – each much more tightly structured and marvels of elegance and concision. John Taverner’s “Audivi vocem de caelo” stands out for its narrow vocal range – sung here by women’s voices alone. Your ears quickly become accustomed to the lack of bass, until you contrast it with Robert White’s “Magnificat”, with a low plainchant opening which thrillingly broadens out into six-part choral writing. Any discussion of these works’ technical aspects runs the risk of making this recording sound academic and austere. Nothing could be further from the truth – this is exquisite music, performed with a sense of wondrous discovery, and perfect spiritual comfort for the troubled soul.