Palestrina: Music for Holy Saturday

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Music for Holy Saturday
PERFORMER: Musica Contexta/Simon Ravens
Holy Saturday provides a period for reflection and preparation in the run-up to Easter, and the third disc in Musica Contexta’s survey of Palestrina’s music for Holy Week highlights the suitability of the composer’s restrained style for this part of the liturgy.


Beautifully composed singing eloquently communicates the quiet atmosphere of the Lamentations, linked by expressively curvaceous phrasing in the plainsong responsories. Persuasive resonance in the refrain – vigorously exhorting Jerusalem’s conversion to Christianity – and a powerful rendering of Jeremiah’s prayer (Lamentation III) are particular highlights.

Palestrina’s Stabat mater is one of the pieces that give his reputation its brilliant glow, and Musica Contexta delivers the direct and intense illustration of the Virgin’s grief at Christ’s crucifixion with a potent emotional charge. The Stabat mater was not intended for Holy Saturday, but the aptness of its text justifies its inclusion here.


The musicians savour the weave of polyphony and plainchant in the Benedictus for Holy Week, signalling the progression from darkness to light expressed in the text. A smooth and relaxed account of the motet Sicut cervus (sung during the blessing of the baptismal water) confirms the resolution of the dark moods in the Lamentations in readiness for Easter Sunday. Nicholas Rast