The Sistine Chapel Choir performs Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and Motets

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COMPOSERS: Palestrina
ALBUM TITLE: Palestrina
WORKS: Missa Papae Marcelli; Motets
PERFORMER: Sistine Chapel Choir/Massimo Palombella


Last year Massimo Palombella and the Sistine chapel issued their Cantate Domino disc which made similar claims to those here regarding its approach – recording in the Sistine Chapel guarantees the ‘aesthetic relevance’ of the performances (perhaps acoustically, though not in liturgical terms since there is no enframing service); their use of a fluctuating beat helps shape and highlight the text; and the sound will be ‘intimate’ as befits the space. When performing Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass they also miss out the culminating seven-voice Agnus because it is not found in
the earliest print (1567). 

The approach to the Mass shows a solid understanding of the conventions of singing these texts. The ‘Cum sancto’ section of the Gloria is lively, the ‘Et incarnatus’ from the Credo slower and more reflective, the Hosanna is joyful, and so on. However, some delicate musical details are obscured, such as the scalic runs at ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’ from the Credo, and the transposition down a third from the notated score robs some exultant sections – for example, the end of the Sanctus – of their lofty intensity.

The motets on the disc have been selected to reflect the Holy Year of Mercy declared by the Pope in 2015. O bone Jesu is a relatively simple chordal piece that is rendered sensitively, but Confirma hoc lacks shape and sounds inconsequential. Recording in the Sistine Chapel must be difficult, but the lower voices can sound muddy and indistinct, as in the Hosanna of the Mass and elsewhere.


Anthony Pryer