Classical review: The Tallis Scholars, Fife

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IT WAS a strange combination. One of the UK’s most celebrated specialist Renaissance choral ensembles eliciting sacred 16th-century polyphony in a Fife potato barn.

Cambo Barn


But when you think about it, there were times in that restless period of English religious history when composers were forced into finding clandestine venues for their music, mindful that the Reformation police might be on their backs.

So, it was perhaps an apposite, as well as mesmerising, experience to hear the mellifluous blend of Peter Phillips’ Tallis Scholars echo around the stark red brick walls last night in a sun-kissed Cambo Estate, now an established venue for the East Neuk Festival.

They sang a neatly interlocked pairing of John Taverner’s extraordinary Missa Corona spinea and Thomas Tallis’ luxuriant Lamentations of Jeremiah.

The performance itself took time to warm up, the lean textures of Taverner’s Leroy Kyrie presenting a testing challenge – not least in intonation – for the initially smaller body of singers.

But the transformation was immediate as the fuller complement of voices launched into the earlier composed mass, its unrelenting and adventurous exploitation of the high-treble tessitura adding a layer of exhilaration that gave its long, winding melismas a spine-tingling dimension that even had the birds, gathered to roost on the corrugated roof, joining in.

Where Taverner’s raw ingenuity gave brazen pleasure, Tallis’ Lamentations provided a sultry spiritual heat.

Phillip’s singers fed its distinctive lines and evocative dissonances with delicate nuance and a natural, probing musicality.