Last month, I ventured up to Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle's University District to hear a concert by The Tudor Choir, performing the Catholic music of William Byrd, Shakespeare's contemporary and a master of Renaissance choral music. When this splendid performance ended, my musically sophisticated friend leaned over and said, "Seriously good!"
That it was. This is some of the greatest choral music ever written, and the Tudor Choir, conducted by Doug Fullington, just keeps getting better (a little less pinched and piercing at the treble, I thought). Also, this the new venue, now home base for the Tudor Choir, has wonderful acoustics for this kind of music.
You can match this at a concert this Friday night when the Tallis Scholars from London begin their American tour with a program of 16th century choral music at this venue, their first time in the space. The Tudor Choir and the church are combining to bring this world-esteemed group, and tickets are getting scarce.
I was thrilled to discover this lovely church, which is operated by the Dominican Order, a teaching order that has long ministered to Catholic students at the U.W. and a broader parish. It was extensively repaired in 2010, enhancing the rather spare, neo-Gothic features of the brick edifice. The acoustics were just right for this music — warmly resonant, evenly balanced, clear enough to allow words and individual lines to be heard. The church has a more flexible policy about repertoire by visiting ensembles than some other church venues, and I found I prefered its cleaner sound to that in St. James and St. Marks.
The Tallis Scholars program, typically ingenious and scholarly, derives from a summit meeting of French and English forces in 1520 in Calais, at which each side brought along their top choruses for a kind of competition. Here the English side will be represented by William Cornysh, and Jean Mouton is the French counterpart on "The Field of the Cloth of Gold."
This is truly music from the source, for it is Peter Phillips who more than anyone brought to a wider audience this extraordinary repertoire of Renaissance choral music. Such music is known as polyphony, meaning that each choral line has an equal and independent strength, unlike the melody-on-top, harmony-below style of later music. Renaissance polyphony is passionately declaimed, tied to the magnificent texts, and combining into a "wall of sound." Choral music, the King James Bible, and Shakespeare all came out of this period, and in some senses they are related (and peerless). Seriously good, as my friend would say.
If you go: The Tallis Scholars program, "The Field of the Cloth of Gold," is Friday, March 24, 8 pm, at Blessed Sacrament Church, 5041 9th Ave. NE. Tickets are $25-50, via the Tudor Choir website.