Palestrina: Missa Ecce ego Johannes; Magnificat quarti toni; Tribulationes civitatum

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Missa Ecce ego Johannes; Magnificat quarti toni; Tribulationes civitatum
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Cathedral/James O’Donnell
Palestrina holds a central position in the history of polyphony, and this release from James O’Donnell and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral triumphantly confirms the composer’s supreme mastery of the polyphonic style.


The Westminster choristers arrest the attention from the start with a vibrant account of Laudate pueri, their bright ensemble and heartfelt emotion boldly underlining the score’s clever deployment of the split choral forces. Meanwhile, they convincingly communicate the penitential message in both Peccantem me quotidie and Tribulationes civitatum with touching and urgent pleas for mercy.

The Missa Ecce ego Johannes is based on an unknown model, but the confident vitality of Palestrina’s setting suggests a polyphonic source. O’Donnell’s ever alert choir responds appropriately to this music, phrasing with expressive directness and affectionate sensitivity as required. Thus, they articulate the Kyrie and Gloria with striking rhetorical power, illuminate the Credo’s colourful description of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection and brilliantly highlight the dynamic opposition of flowing counterpoint and exuberant declamation in the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.


Joyous performances of Tu es Petrus and the Magnificat quarti toni give further evidence of the Westminster choir’s polished eloquence. Cantantibus organis’s moving portrayal of Music’s spiritual capacity provides an apt endpiece. Nicholas Rast