Advent Calendar Day 22: Spem in Alium (Tallis)

I have to confess that this is not exactly an Advent Carol. In fact, today was meant to be The Truth Sent From Above, but as I was looking for the King’s Singers version, I found their recording of Spem in Alium, a piece designed for eight choirs of five voices.

Since there are only six singers in The King’s Singers, I immediately had to see how they’d managed it…

As you can see, they managed it by undergoing mitosis, with a little help from a recording studio, and recording the parts belonging to each choir over each other.  There’s a fascinating interview with them about the recording here.  I don’t think I can add much to it, to be honest.

Having heard it, I was so fascinated that it was the only possible choice for today.  The richness of sound they produce when multiplied in this fashion is just incredible. Though I do like the comment at the end of the recording “Well, the end was good…”.

I honestly can’t say enough about the King’s Singers – their harmony and pitch is so utterly impeccable that they get all sorts of richness and resonances and harmonics that I’ve just never heard anywhere else.  It’s amazing stuff.  I have no idea what I think about Spem in Alium, except that it was just what I was in the mood for, and therefore just what you get.  I would, I think, like to hear a version with 40 individual singers, because I suspect a lot of the interest comes from the different colours of the voices.  (Aha!  And I’ve found one here, and it is indeed gorgeous and sounds quite different – less precisely perfect, but brighter or fuller somehow – the King’s Singers version is music for meditation, but this keeps waking me up and making me pay attention.)

The text is, as I’ve said, is not wholly Adventy, but I feel that it can be justified, because it does seem to cover some of the same ground as the Magnificat (which of course I maintain is about as Adventish as one can get), or at least have some of the same feeling to it.

I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness

Or maybe not.  I don’t know.  I have no excuse, really.  It feels like an Advent piece to me, and it’s beautiful music, excellently sung.  Can anyone really ask more?

(Well, perhaps you can.  And fair enough t0o. Here, have the King’s Singers singing The Truth Sent From Above after all…)

(also, I don’t want to know why all the comments I find on other versions of Spem in Alium relate to Shades of Grey.  I have all sorts of suspicions, but I’m fairly certain I am happier not knowing for sure…)

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