PALESTRINA: Vol. 5 = Dum complerentur; Loquebantur variis linguis; Veni Creator Spiritus; Iam Christus astra ascenderat; Missa Iam Christus astra ascenderat; Veni sancte Spiritus; Song of Songs (Nos. 13, 14, & 15); Magnificat quarti toni – The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers – Coro

PALESTRINA: Vol. 5 = Dum complerentur; Loquebantur variis linguis; Veni Creator Spiritus; Iam Christus astra ascenderat; Missa Iam Christus astra ascenderat; Veni sancte Spiritus; Song of Songs (Nos. 13, 14, & 15); Magnificat quarti toni – The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers – Coro COR16124, 63:52 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

It’s only been a year since I reviewed volume 2 of this series and already we are up to No. 5, so they are coming fast and furious! We have only gotten them sporadically, so at first I wondered if they were releasing these out of sequence; nope. A quick check shows they are all there.

I am not sure I like the idea of presenting the Song of Songs piecemeal; the notes seem to indicated that these 29 short pieces, making his Fourth Book of Motets was indeed designed to be sampled a few at a time, and that this is the best way to hear them and enjoy “spiritual refreshment”. Maybe. Others have recorded them whole, and I can’t say that is to their detriment. But what really carps is the fact that these are such gorgeous recordings, really perceptive and expressive so if you decide you do want to hear what the Sixteen has done with all of them, you have to buy the whole Palestrina series.

Well, I guess there are worse things than that. But I’ll bet Coro puts them out together sometime in the future. In the meantime, enjoy these gems, along with the other wonderful music on this disc. Palestrina was incapable of creating anything other than wonderful, and all one needs to do is listen to the plainchant hymn and consequent mass setting of Iam Christus astra ascenderat to understand this. A hymn setting was not allowed in the Roman rite, but a mass based on it was allowed, and the result is one of his most tuneful pieces, if it is not heresy to say so. There are no manuscript copies of this odd work, and there are no indications as to where or why it was written, but it is certainly an ingratiating piece of great consistency and beauty.

The three opening motets are all based on the theme of Pentecost, one of the greatest festivals of the Christian year, and getting music from the composer eminently worthy of such an occasion; indeed, Dum complerentur is one of the greatest works he ever penned, though the two that follow are no less so. Finally, ending the program with this four-voice setting of the Magnificat—one of 35 he composed—is a reflective and joyous conclusion to another sterling album by Christophers and his wonderful group, recorded to perfection in London’s Church of St. Alban the Martyr. Bring on volume six!

—Steven Ritter

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