Palestrina Vol. 4

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ashewell; Lassus; Palestrina
WORKS: Missa O Magnum Mysterium; Song of Songs Nos 7, 8 & 12
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers


This latest disc in Harry Christopher’s enterprising Palestrina series is centred upon works associated with the Christmas season, plus some fine settings from the sensuous Song of Songs – possibly intended as ‘mood’ music at ecclesiastical meals of various kinds. The lovely O Magnum Mysterium Mass, rarely recorded, is especially welcome, though we do not get the motet upon which it is based, nor the alternative Kyrie and Hosanna settings contained in a Papal manuscript source.

Palestrina’s ‘objective’ style, his refusal to indulge in vivid word-painting, and the rather restricted major ‘tonality’ of much of his writing leaves the would-be interpreter to wrestle mostly with details of a purely musical kind. In these performances there are fine examples of large-scale architectural sense, as in the driving clarity of Surge illuminare, and of textural sensitivity in the brilliantly, perky imitation of the ‘Sicut erat’ section of the Magnificat. Elsewhere there can be a lack of focus – works such as Jubilate Deo begin robustly (as is suggested by the text), but then lose momentum; and in the Magnificat, the ‘fecit potentiam’ section (which describes a series of victories by the Lord) for some reason is displayed in a subdued tone. The singing throughout is well-blended and precisely tuned, and the echoey acoustic adds warmth, though detail is occasionally sacrificed to general effect.


Anthony Pryer