Palestrina: Missa Ecce ego Joannes; Missa Pater noster; motets

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Missa Ecce ego Joannes; Missa Pater noster; motets
PERFORMER: Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5650
Christ Church has a highly polished choir with a remarkable ability to sustain the long time-scale of two complete Masses, framed by two motets and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer. Such unaccompanied singing can’t easily be edited if pitch wanders and I sense that long passages here, if not complete movements, were created in a single ‘take’. Perhaps, though, that also explains a certain caution in the performance, the counterpoint a plaiting of equal lines rather than interweaving and overlapping arches of sound. Little happens to shape a phrase, to create structure from the rise and fall of dynamics or of the intensity of vocal sonority. At appropriate moments, forces are reduced – a solo ensemble for the middle section of each Kyrie and Benedictus – but this apart, the choir rarely rises above a workmanlike singing of the notes at a generally constant tempo. Recorded sound recreates the distant perspective of nave rather than chancel, evocative though not immediate.

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Palestrina works his magic notably in the ambivalent tonality of the Missa Pater noster, oscillating between C major and D minor, while the Missa Ecce ego Joannes is strikingly direct in its projection of the words, in chordal passages and repetitions. George Pratt