Harry Christophers’ current series of Palestrina recordings is very welcome. Given the esteem the composer is accorded not only by the Catholic church but by choristers the world over, it is very odd that there has been little sustained exploration of his output. Perhaps the sheer volume is daunting; with no fewer than 104 masses, let alone a vast corpus of other music besides.
The latest instalment in The Sixteen’s cycle presents a Mass, a Magnificat and various other motets associated with the seasons of Advent and Christmas. In the middle of the program we are also given three of Palestrina’s settings from the Song of Songs. This generous selection is delivered with the group’s customary clarity and commitment, mirroring the counter-reformation ideals with which Palestrina is associated.
Based on the motet of the same name, the Missa O magnum mysterium is an attractive five-voice work that shows great respect for the liturgical text, presenting sonorous and quietly fervent treatments of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei, while allowing Christmas joy to permeate the upbeat Osanna sections of the Sanctus and Benedictus.
The Song of Songs has long had the notoriety of being the bible’s “naughty book”. Palestrina treated these erotic texts in a madrigalian manner and there is a tendency here for Christophers to spiritualise their performance, despite Palestrina’s intention to use a livelier style. Amongst the other smaller liturgical pieces a double-choir version of Jubilate Deo stands out whiule an ebullient Surge, illuminare brings the disc to a glorious and enjoyable close.