ALLEGRI: Miserere; Miserere (with embellishments by Deborah Roberts); PALESTRINA: Pope Marcellus Mass; Tu es Petrus; Stabat mater/ Tallis Scholars/ Peter Phillips – Gimell GIMBD 641 Pure Audio-only Blu-ray (PCM 2.0, DTS MA HD 5.1, Dolby TrueHD 5.1, (24-bit/96kHz) + standard CD, 76:05 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
This recording, released in 2007, contains music that is the most requested repertory of this storied group in their entire 40-plus year history. They first recorded the legendary Miserere back in 1980, and followed it up with a recording and video from the Sistine Chapel in 1994, one of the glories of the early music catalog. Finally they decided to put all of these popular potboilers on one disc, themed around music for the Sistine Chapel, and the results were, as you might expect, stunning to say the least.
There have been lots of recording of the Allegri; this one offers two takes, one with “embellishments” by soprano Deborah Roberts, going on the premise that one of the things that made this piece so wedded to the Sistine Chapel’s secrecy is the fact of its improvisations. The piece actually had escaped the confines of the church even before young 14-year-old Mozart’s writing it down from memory, but it lacked that last little bit of specialty that only the living tradition of performance within the church walls could give. This represents one shot at such a possible interpretation, and it is very nice. The first version of the standard work without the additional embellishments has never been sung better. These folks own this work.
The Palestrina selections are also wonderful, the Missa one of those works that supposedly “saved” polyphony when the Catholic Church was about to revert to Gregorian chant alone. Palestrina, using an enhanced one-word-to-a-note declamatory style, demonstrated that the music could be understood and polyphony given in such a fashion as to truly enhance worship. Well, whether it really happened like that is most likely a huge oversimplification, but there is much truth to it, and the Scholars sing it to perfection, as they do the affecting Stabat mater and the Sistine Chapel Roman requisite Tu es Petrus.
This Blu-ray Audio release demonstrates how these discs should be done—high quality stereo tracks, and surround sound 5.1 tracks for DTS MA and Dolby TrueHD. The sound is simply gorgeous here, the DTS taking the prize as usual, though the Dolby is nothing to snuff at. This album is a treasure to begin with—this release only enhances its value, which is exactly what this technology should do.