Palestrina: Missa ‘Hodie Christus natus est’; Christmas Motets

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Archiv
WORKS: Missa ‘Hodie Christus natus est’; Christmas Motets
PERFORMER: Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: 437 833-2 DDD
Paul McCreesh is fast building a formidable reputation for his liturgical reconstructions from the Italian Renaissance. This disc recreates a Christmas Mass, based around Palestrina’s Mass Hodie Christus natus est, interspersing it with chant, motets by Josquin, Victoria and others, and organ toccatas by Frescobaldi.

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It may at first seem strange to mix music from such a wide time-span – Josquin was born around 1440, Anerio died in 1630 – but in his booklet note McCreesh assures us that Roman congregations of the day would have taken this in their stride. Even to listeners of today, the stylistic differences seem strangely slight.

Perhaps this is due to the Gabrieli Consort’s homogenous singing; there is nothing exaggerated in their performance, each element of the service – chant, instrumental, choral – flows gently into the next, yet the changes in texture, and a careful use of effects (the processional Introit, for instance), maintain the interest.

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Palestrina’s Christmas Mass is suitably joyful, and receives a rhythmic and cheerful performance. But for me the musical treats lie in the instrumental pieces, especially in the contemplative organ toccatas, and the Frescobaldi Canzona for violin, cornett and continuo. That said, the singing is of a high standard, and the whole disc is highly recommended. Edward Kershaw