Palestrina: Third Book of Lamentations

COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Palestrina
WORKS: Third Book of Lamentations
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker
In spite of Palestrina’s undoubted fame, large sections of his output are scarcely epresented at all on disc. That is the first reason why these two recordings are valuable additions to the catalogue, although the Offertoria recording seems to have been previously issued in 2001 on the label, before being re-packaged by Chandos. The Lamentations have not been recorded recently: they are the set copied into a manuscript in 1600, five years after Palestrina’s death, named ‘third set’ by 19th-century scholar Franz Haberl.


The complete 1593 Offertoria printed collection takes us through the church year. It comprises 68 pieces to be sung at Mass when the bread and wine are placed on the altar. This recording selects 25 of those items, none of them very long. That may sound unpromising, but this mixed choir of 30 voices is persuasive and confident and demonstrates clearly the variety and ingenuity of Palestrina’s compositional technique. The choir is not strong on the projection of consonants, but is sure-footed in harmonic changes (‘Deus tu conversus’), lively and rhythmic in the dance-like pieces (‘Jubilate Deo universa’), and capable of great dynamic contrast (as in ‘Dextera Domini’). The recording is generally clear and good, though perhaps a little fuzzy in the bass range and a touch too distant from the choir. The larger Westminster Cathedral choir, of men and boys only, produce a more massive sound. In some ways this suits the reverberation of their building, and provides a pleasing stability of tone. But it also chops this already sectionalised music into predictable phrasal lumps, and when individual voices do become exposed (as in the Ghimel section of the Holy Saturday music) there can be moments of wavering or mistuning. The overall effect, though, is reverential, moving and warmly recorded. Anthony Pryer