11 APRIL 1998, Page 28

Renaissance rivalry

Sir: Peter Phillips has on a number of occa- sions shared his grievances as director of the Tallis Scholars with readers of The Spectator, which has always seemed to me somewhat lacking in taste — perhaps Mary Killen could advise. Having said which, his article (Arts, 14 March) raises a number of interesting points about the current state of affairs in the early music world. British groups have indeed led the field — many can rightly be considered pioneers — since the explosion of interest in the 1970s: 'early music', in terms of performers, recordings, scholarship and, yes, even journals, has been — and will, let us hope, continue to be — a major export industry for this coun- try.

Now that the market is perhaps a little tougher — thanks no doubt to the combi- nation of a saturated CD market, a high pound making British fees less attractive (my experience as artistic director of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 1986-97 would suggest, however, that British fees have usually been downright reasonable compared to those of foreign ensembles) and the increasing competition from highly accomplished groups from else- where in Europe — it's no use whingeing.

I'm a great admirer of the Tallis Scholars, as Mr Phillips will know, but the unpalat- able truth is that it is the increased compe- tition within this country that may have begun to undermine their previously unas- sailable position. A number of younger groups, much influenced by, if not in the image of, the Tallis Scholars, have sprung up recently, all of whom are recording like mad and, what's more, winning Gramo- phone awards. But this is surely as it should be: no one has — or should have — a monopoly on Renaissance polyphony or any other part of the repertory. I hope Mr Phillips's group will continue to flourish and make many more recordings, but let's be honest, they've had it good, very good, over the best part of two decades, and it was a shame that he did not acknowledge this rather more openly in his article.

Tess Knighton

Editor, Early Music, 70 Baker Street, London W1