Palestrina

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COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: Coro
ALBUM TITLE: Palestrina
WORKS: Vol. 6: Missa L’homme armé; Dilectus meus mihi; Super flumina Babylonis; Songs of Songs Nos 16-18, etc
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16133

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Continuing their series devoted to ‘the prince and father of music’, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen here offer a rare recording of his five-part Missa L’homme armé, as well as a selection of settings from the Song of Songs and a handful of little-known devotional and penitential motets. The robust, popular French song L’Homme armé inspired a surprisingly extrovert setting of the Mass from a composer celebrated for his smooth, serene style. Christophers artfully moulds and heightens the contours of the polyphonic lines, which ebb and flow in a liquid tapestry of sound. In keeping with the Council of Trent’s ideology that sacred music should be uplifting and the words intelligible, phrases are buoyant and cleanly articulated, textures are transparent and the singers enunciate with pristine clarity throughout. With its flawless balance and intonation, the performance makes earlier versions by Pro Cantione Antiqua and the San Petronio Cappella Musicale sound stylistically dated by comparison.

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The Sixteen’s rich, buttery sound is particularly effective for the sensual Song of Songs settings, which brim with Counter-Reformation fervour. They are ardent and energetic in ‘Surge amica mea’, radiant in ‘Surgam et circuibo civitatem’, painting and animating the words to vibrant effect. The penitential motets and those on themes of exile, death and despair might have benefited from a darker, more austere sound, but that is to quibble in the face of these glowing performances. Kate Bolton