PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli, Motets – Sistine Chapel Choir/ Massimo Palombella – DG

PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli; Tu Es Pastor Ovium; O bone Jesu; Confitemi Domino; Ad te Levavi Oculos Meos; Benedixisti Domine; Veritas Mea Et Misericordia Mea; Jubilate Deo; Confirma Hoc Deus; Ave Maria – Sistine Chapel Choir/ Massimo Palombella – DG 00289 479 6131, 60:29 [Distr. by Universal] ****:

Round two from the Sistine produces a gorgeous recording of great authenticity.

Last year we were treated to the first-ever recording made in the famous Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s multicolored marvel that, as it turns out, also sports some exceptionally resonant and rich acoustics. For the follow-up there is an even greater treat, hand-picked works of the Venetian master given in uniquely radiant performances that simply sound unlike any other. Though the Sistine is an all-male ensemble, the high tenors use a degree of falsetto that sounds quite different from the now-new-normal infestation of countertenors, a practice that adds a high degree of lack of strength when compared with the more preferred altos and mezzo-sopranos. (One wonders when the ladies will plan a worldwide protest…)

So, the choir itself, the oldest in the world, and remarkably international in makeup, gives us an inimitable and richly-diverse experience of a space, place, and historically-crucial institution that rightly claims pride of place and primus inter pares when offering interpretations of Palestrina. The composer himself had to respond to the needs of time and place when he supposedly “saved polyphony” when creating a work that met the strictures laid down by the Council of Trent, his first six-part offering dedicated to Pope Marcellus II, and ultimately becoming possibly the most famous mass setting in history. Its recorded reputation is, to say the least, formidable, but conventions of all sorts fade away when hearing sounds that must be very similar to the way Palestrina first envisioned. The other pieces are all motets related to the theme of “mercy”, as Pope Francis dedicated 2016 as a year of mercy, and this recording is wedded hand and foot to the dictates of the Vatican in this regard, which has made it quite clear that it regards this new collaboration with the famous yellow label as an opportunity for wide and significant exposure.

With the terrific sound, authentic performances, and deep emotional feeling invested by all concerned, they certainly deserve it.

—Steven Ritter

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