Palestrina: Missa Dum complerentur; Magnificat sexti toni

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Missa Dum complerentur; Magnificat sexti toni
PERFORMER: Westminster Cathedral Choir/Martin Baker
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67353
This parody Mass takes its name and its musical ideas from an earlier motet. ‘Parody’, far from being mere self-plagiarism, is a strong unifying technique – for instance, each Mass movement begins with a variant of the motet opening. But Palestrina is more subtle elsewhere. Several motet ‘alleluias’, set to an outpouring of downward scales, reappear in the Mass both for jubilant text – ‘the Glory of the Father’ – and also for the contemplative ‘grant us peace’, ending the Agnus Dei, like a Wagnerian leitmotif spelling out the emotional undercurrent of often contrasting words. Perhaps it’s best to hear the motet several times before turning to the Mass, to lodge the source material in the memory.

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This is a thoughtful, carefully analysed performance – Baker and the Westminster choir communicate a clear sense of the structural logic, all too elusive in a constant stream of liturgical text without verses, refrains or repetitions.

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Technically, the singers are excellent – the single-line plainchant of a Sequence is virtually flawless, clarified by a continental-style cutting edge. At the other extreme, two eight-part Whitsuntide motets use layered textures thrown antiphonally from side to side. The recording enhances this spaciousness and atmosphere – shut your eyes and you can almost smell the incense. Very warmly recommended.