COMPOSERS: Gregorio Allegri; Giovanni Palestrina; Tomas Luis de Victoria
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Cantate Domino
WORKS: Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus; Palestrina: Ad te Levavi Oculos Meos; Nunc dimittis (attr.); Super flumina Babylonis; Improperium exspectavit cor meum; Adoramus te; Sicut cervus; Angelus Domini descendit de caelo a 5; Constitues eos principes; Tu es Petrus; F Anerio: Christus factus est; Lasso: Magnificat Octavi Toni; Jubilate Deo; Victoria: Popule meus for 4 voices; Gregorian Chant
PERFORMER: Sistine Chapel Choir/Massimo Palombella
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 5300
This disc of sacred polyphony and plainsong is an interesting exercise in advocacy for the current Sistine Chapel Choir under its director Massimo Palombella. He tells us the performances will be dynamic, fluid and expressive unlike the ‘black-and-white’ visions favoured in North European performances (has he heard the nuanced interpretations by the groups Tenebrae or Sei Voces?), and the plainsong will be sung exactly as decreed in the Roman Gradual chant book.
He is right about the plainsong. The chanting of Christus factus est is a revelation, with every inflection implied by the notation executed with fluency and sensitivity to style. Also the choir is impassioned (not quite the same thing as nuanced) in Tu es Petrus, and in Lassus’s Magnificat it moves quietly into the music with hardly a murmur. Palombella employs male altos and occasionally (for instance, in Palestrina’s Ad te levavi) they are strident and unstable. He also gives us the original version of Allegri’s Miserere so there are no stratospheric high notes. In the end this is an attempt to capture an event and a place (the singing in the Sistine Chapel), and so we get an effective ‘middle-distance’ recording with a spacious echo and not a very much fine detail. At 59 minutes we could perhaps have been served an extra track or two, the second part of Palestrina’s Sicut cervus for example?