This is the second disc in Harry Christophers’s series devoted to the works of Palestrina. The first (in 2011) centred upon compositions praising the Virgin Mary, while this new recording gives us pieces written to celebrate Advent and Christmas. The series will not cover all of Palestrina’s works, but each disc will be based on a particular theme or object of devotion.
The Sixteen are at their best in jubilant passages of celebration such as those in the motet Hodie Christus where there is exultation at Christ’s birth. In the Osanna of the Missa Hodie Christus Natus we find something beyond mere noisy joyfulness; the bright, fluid soprano voices construct crystal clear patterns which can then be deftly followed by the rest of the choir. This Mass also contains double choir effects, rare in Palestrina; they give it a monumental sound, but the two choirs are not always distinguishable in the resonant acoustic. In some of the motets the singers make the most of the word painting: they skip along the running melodies at the word ‘curremus’ in Osculetur me osculo; and in Nigra sum the lines jostle each other out of the way at the reference to fighting. The main work here – the Missa Hodie Christus natus est – has been recorded by several other groups. Only one of them, the version by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford directed by Jeremy Summerly (on Naxos), is a serious rival. It has a steadier, more subdued approach and a less echoey acoustic.