Tallis Scholars at the White Light Festival on Sunday, November 7.
The fascinating thing about composer Arvo Pärt is that his music, particularly his choral music, simultaneously sounds both old and new. The textures—long pedal tones, simple chant-like rhythms—hearken back to plainchant and early Renaissance polyphony, but the stark harmonies, with their pressed semitone dissonances, could never be placed in the fifteenth-century. That strange duality gives his work an eerily timeless quality; neither here nor there, it exists on its own plane.
That duality also makes the Tallis Scholars unusually well suited to perform his music. Named for sixteenth-century English composer Thomas Tallis, the ten-voice choir specializes in sacred Renaissance music, so Pärt’s similarly textured sacred works fall into the ensemble’s repertory with apparent ease. Sunday evening’s program moved seamlessly from Pärt to Palestrina, Tallis, Allegri, Praetorious, and Byrd. The choir’s flawless intonation and expressive phrasing polished each piece like a pearl on a string, threading them together into a miraculously cohesive whole.