CLASSICAL: IN CONCERT THE TALLIS SCHOLARS / PETER PHILLIPS St John's, Smith Square THE SIXTEEN / HARRY CHRISTOPHERS St John's, Smith Square London
Northcott, Bayan, The Independent (London, England)
When one is confronted by two of our most highly praised and much- recorded choral groups, both excelling in 16th-century repertoire on successive evenings at the same venue, the urge to compare and contrast is difficult to resist. And to suggest that The Tallis Scholars are the more consistently purist in their approach, while The Sixteen are more luxuriantly various, would be no more than to hint at the differences.
No doubt it is a tribute to the vision of Peter Phillips that the core line-up of his Tallis Scholars has remained so faithful since he founded them almost 30 years ago. Their principal virtues have always been precision of intonation and absolute clarity of texture - rarely more than two voices to a part - together with a penchant for crisp articulation, high pitch and fastish tempos. The downside of this approach is that bass-lines can sometimes sound lightweight, and the unfolding of pieces a bit matter- of-fact.
In a characteristic programme comprising large slabs of Tudor polyphony, one felt, for instance, that the textural contrasts at the start of the Gloria of Byrd's Mass in Four Parts went unpointed, though the poignant concluding "Dona Nobis Pacem" was the more plangent for its restraint.
Where Phillips has confined himself strictly to choral music from between 1450 and 1650 - the odd John Tavener disc aside - The Sixteen, under their founder Harry Christophers, have ranged far more widely, and their programme was a more frankly seasonal affair, with carols ranging from the late Middle Ages to the early 19th century, and the snappy addition of a period- instrument consort. …