Palestrina: Missa Ad coenam Agni
The Brabant Ensemble is best known for exploring lesser-known 16th-century composers, and this sidestep into Easter works by Palestrina may seem to be something of an aberration. However, much music by Palestrina has never been recorded, and among those neglected works is the impressive Missa Ad coenam Agni which forms the centrepiece of this Brabant recital.
It is hard for choral groups to know what to do with some of these Masses that grind their way through the long (though dramatic) text of the Credo with acres of apparently anonymous counterpoint, and I am not sure the Brabant Ensemble overcomes that pitfall here. The problem lies both with the lowest voices – which are in tune and stable, but each note seems equally ‘solid’, and there is little pliancy in the phrasing – and with the brisk, mechanical pace. It is a different story in the Regina coeli which is also brisk, but where the singers enliven the texture with their nuanced renderings of the marvellous contrapuntal connections, and the recording makes the most of the double-choir effects in the final section. Three of the pieces here overlap with items on a similar disc issued recently by The Sixteen on Coro (review below) – the hymn Ad coenam Agni, the offertory Terra tremuit and antiphon Regina caeli. The Brabant textures are cleaner, but The Sixteen performances show more musical imagination.