Palestrina: Canticum canticorum: motets

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
LABELS: Linn
WORKS: Canticum canticorum: motets
PERFORMER: Magnificat/Philip Cave
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 174
When the Pope sat down for supper in his private chambers he might well have listened to these little erotic masterpieces by Palestrina. The texts are taken from The Song of Solomon and express (by means of blushingly frank allegories) ‘the divine love of Christ and his spouse, the Soul’. None of the 29 pieces is more than about three minutes long, but the concentration of intricate technical and stylistic effects makes great demands on the performers who, for the most part, manage to produce music full of cohesion and poise.

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The obvious point of comparison for this recording is the version issued by Bruno Turner on Hyperion in 1994. The disparate colours of the male voices on that recording cannot compete with the mixed but balanced ensemble here, which employs one voice to a part. Even so, Turner takes the truly sensual pieces (for example, ‘Duo ubera tua’) more slowly and tellingly, and he manages some of the awkward chord changes (in ‘Pulchrae sunt’) more adroitly. Cave, though, gets great variety from his singers, and his unerring momentum (as in the skipping ‘Vox dilecti’) persuades us that we, like the Pope, can enjoy the whole as a suppertime concert. Anthony Pryer