Missa Cantantibus Organis

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Allegri,Dragoni,Giovannelli,Mancini,Palestrina,Santini,Soriano,Stabile
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Twelve part mass with music by Anonymous, Dragoni, Giovannelli, Mancini, Palestrina, Santini, Soriano & Stabile; Allegri: Miserere and other works
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/ Andrew Carwood
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67860

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This performance reclaims the glory of late 16th-century Rome’s polychoral tradition. Its centrepiece is the 12-voice Missa Cantantibus organibus by Palestrina and other authors, based on Palestrina’s eponymous motet, also included in the programme.

The composers of the Mass were acolytes of Palestrina, who extended his imitative techniques to encompass multiple choirs pitted against each other in compositions at once huge and rhetorically gripping. The drama and flamboyant colours of Baroque Rome’s art and architecture are wonderfully present in this reconstruction of its sacred music.

This recording’s breadth of moods, devices and styles is refreshing. As a compendium of practices, the Mass gives vocalists many opportunities to dazzle the listener, whether through finely-wrought imitation, diversity of texture, or triumphant confluence of three choirs into one.

Thanks to Andrew Carwood’s directorship, the contrasting effects of these practices are immediately audible, despite the vibrant recording acoustic. More importantly, the vocalists use declamation to emote, transporting the listener from sorrow to transcendent joy. 

Alongside compositions authored and inspired by Palestrina, several works by another Rome-based composer, Gregorio Allegri, are included; his celebrated Miserere is animated by improvisation which had always been at the heart of the work.

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Carwood’s sleeve notes briskly (and thankfully) debunk long-standing canards about the Miserere, and in performance he teases out the work’s numinous qualities. Berta Joncus