Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Master of the Renaissance
Six Masses, Two Motets & The Lamentations
Pro Cantione Antiqua/Brown/Turner
Recorded 1988/91/92
REGIS RRC 4002 4CDs [275'.42"]
Bargain price (around £6 per disc)

For aficionados of this period music these discs will do much to satisfy. The 16th century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina became a singer and organist in his home town from which (as was the custom) he took his name. From 1551-1554 and again from 1571 until his death in 1594 he served as maestro di capella at the Papal Court in Rome. In between he held a number of posts elsewhere. This was a period when music was subject to all sorts of restrictions, regulations and edicts issued by the ever-changing Popes and the ecclesiastical courts, something which Palestrina, who seems to have been a strong-minded, principled man, accepted with varying degrees of compliance. For example the Missa Papae Marcelli (for six voices) was composed after such a meeting at which it was decided that music for Holy Week was to be kept simple and solemn, the text clear. Palestrina delivered in all three aspects. The Missa Assumpta est Maria and its bright textures of two sopranos (male) is one of his most positive creations, the paraphrase masses (taking existing single-line melodies and treating them to all sorts of complex polyphony) masterpieces of construction.

The members of Pro Cantione Antiqua (formed back in 1968) constitute a vocal classy act, many of them familiar names on the concert platform. With the likes of Michael George, Stephen Roberts, Neil Jenkins, Ashley Stafford, Ian Partridge, Christopher Keyte, and Michael Chance in the cast list the point will have been well and truly made. The idiomatic singing of this distinguished ensemble is impeccable, their phrasing creamy, the text crystal clear, while the recording balance in the resonant acoustics of either St Jude's, Hampstead or St Alban's, Brook Street is simply splendid.

Christopher Fifield



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