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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
ALBUM TITLE: Palestrina, Vol. 5
WORKS: Dum complerentur; Loquebantur variis linguis; Veni Creator Spiritus; Iam Christus astra ascenderat; Missa Iam Christus Astra Ascenderat; Song of Songs: Nos 13, 14, & 15
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers


Palestrina wrote over 104 masses and hundreds of other works for church services and informal private devotions. This means that there is no way Harry Christophers is going to run out of pieces for this important exploratory series of recordings of a composer more known by reputation than through acquaintance with his full musical range. We have already had discs from The Sixteen of works devoted to the Virgin Mary, Advent, Easter and Christmas, and now we get some rare items for Pentecost – including the never-previously-recorded Missa Iam Christus Astra – as well as a selection of pieces from the erotic Song of Songs.

It is these last items that come across best. The subtle ebb and flow of the speed in Vox dilecti, for example, exactly matches the quickening emotions at the sound of the voice of the beloved, and the ascending musical motives at the call for her to rise up and come hither are beautifully handled by the singers in Surge propera. The Iam Christus Mass is fine in a generalised choral kind of way, but the plainsong on which it is based is a tricky, meandering melody which creates problems of shaping and direction, and the reverberant acoustic and relatively large numbers in the choir add to what is already a rather amorphous impression. Again, the references to mighty sounds and winds in Dum complerentur invite some nuanced dramatic effects, but we end up with little more than anonymous briskness.


Anthony Pryer