- Palestrina - Prince of Music [Recommended Recordings]
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28 October, 2012
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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Recommended Recordings

Motets, Missa Sine Nomine
(Theatrum Instrumentorum; Diego Fasolis, conductor)
Palestrina was certainly a great composer, but "fascinating" is not a word usually associated with his music. Well, this is a fascinating Palestrina record. The performances are smooth and skillful, as are those on many other Palestrina recordings; the real interest is conductor Diego Fasolis's exploration of the different scoring options possible for performing this mellifluous music: unaccompanied single voices (the Missa sine nomine and Magnificat); choir with organ (Laudate Dominum, Sicut cervus, and Fundamenta eius); solo voices with wind instruments (Nos autem gloriari and Tu es Petrus); and even double chorus (soloists with organ and choir and with wind instruments in the Stabat Mater). Fasolis demonstrates particular skill and taste in matching works with performing forces; he and his musicians make every choice sound credible. (review by Matthew Westphal)

Music for Maundy Thursday
(Musica Contexta)
Musica Contexta was formed by Simon Ravens (a former assistant to Andrew Parrott) specifically to present Renaissance music in context--that is, in the sort of musical setting (e.g., a liturgy) for which it was conceived. Their auspicious debut record for Chandos recreates a portion of the Sistine Chapel's legendary Tenebrę services for Holy Week. They follow each lesson (taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah) with a plainchant responsory and frame each Psalm with its plainchant antiphon. (This practice really does give Palestrina's polyphony some breathing space, keeping it from becoming monotonous.) They add ornaments in the Benedictus and Miserere, as was standard at that time and place. Most importantly, they give Palestrina's sweet, sad, soulful lamentations the performance they deserve. (review by Matthew Westphal)

Prince of Music - Palestrina
(Voices of Ascension; Dennis Keene, conductor)
Voices of Ascension's Palestrina disc is something of a "greatest hits" collection: a dozen of the prolific composer's best-known motets--including several, such as Super flumina Babilonis, Tu es Petrus, and Sicut cervus, that many listeners will have sung in church or college choirs--and the legendary "Pope Marcellus" Mass. Yet the performance is not the slowly flowing honey usually served up by, say, the Tallis Scholars (as good as that is). Particularly in the Gloria and Credo of the Mass, Dennis Keene deliberately de-emphasizes the rise and fall of the different voices' lines in favor of a more naturally speech-like declamation of the long Latin texts. This means a surprisingly fast tempo--and some rhythmic spring and syncopation one might not expect in Palestrina. Some (not all) of the motets get a similar treatment: it works well in joyous pieces like the Pentecost motet Dum complerentur, but listeners might miss that melodic rise and fall in some of the slower works. The singers of Voices of Ascension are quite skillful, and the slight edge in their tone helps make the different melodies unusually audible. Very worthwhile, but not your father's Palestrina. (review by Matthew Westphal)


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