Taverner’s Mass “Mater Christi” is one of a large number of early sixteenth century English works that have suffered neglect through the loss of one or more voice-parts in the surviving manuscripts. Both the Mass and its associated antiphon are found in an important set of part-books now in Peterhouse, Cambridge, from which the Tenor is missing; but the antiphon can be completed from other sources, and as a result much of the Mass, which is partly based on it, can be reconstructed with confidence. The present completion by David Skinner is the first to be recorded, though it is now known that E H Fellowes made an unpublished version of the missing material.
On this 1989 recording of Taverner's Missa Mater Christi, Christ Church Cathedral Choir under Stephen Darlington, give us a complete mass reconstruction rather than a simple performance of the mass itself. Christ Church are a very apt group to record the mass as Taverner was master of the choristers at Cardinal College (Christ Church's predecessor) from 1526. The mass wasn't written for the choir of Cardinal College, Taverner probably did not write it until after he left the college, but it survives in an important set of part-books dating from the 1540s, which are now at Peterhouse College.
The part-books lack the tenor part. But the musical material of the mass is heavily based on that of the antiphon Mater Christi sanctissima. The antiphon can be completed from other sources and David Skinner has used this material to complete the mass. Taverner's mass is performed with plainchant propers and a plainchant Kyrie (Rex Splendens) along with other plainchant items from the mass. The two Taverner antiphons Mater Christi sanctissima and O Wilhelme, pastor bone are performed at the end. The result is a very satisfying liturgical sequence, for the feast of the Annunciation in Paschaltide.
The plainchant choir includes most of the men in the choir and numbers some 14 singers, thus giving the chant a wonderfully strong and steady feel. Andrew Carwood makes a convincing celebrant with an equally strong Paul Martin as Deacon and Matthew Vine as Sub-deacon.
Taverner's mass is one of his most up-beat and direct; it generally lacks the florid writing of his youthful works. Christ Church catch the work's mood well and give a nicely balanced performance with a fine flexibility of line and good internal balance. The trebles seem to be on good form and give a good account of themselves in the work’s more complicated solo passages.
The CD booklet includes an article which gives full background to the music plus the English translations of the sung text. Unfortunately it does not print the original Latin texts.
This excellent performance of Taverner's likeable mass is embedded in an entirely convincing liturgical reconstruction and is a disc that everyone should try. Robert Hugill, Musicweb-international.com