was published in 1593, containing 68 pieces which cover
every Sunday and festival of the church year. The present recording
covers most of the offertories from Advent Sunday to Trinity
Sunday. The tradition in Rome at the time was to have motets
performed at the point in the service where bread and wine were
placed upon the altar, along with other rituals such as incensing
and washing of hands. This context in terms of compositional
style means that Palestrina was at his most conservative, avoiding
extended word-painting, dance-like rhythms and unprepared dissonances.
Melodies are balanced, and all is graceful lines and elegant
proportions. The pieces move through a variety of modes, and
the order of the programme has been selected so that the voices
move from Dorian through to Hypomixolydian. The alterations
in vocal texture between these modes or ‘keys’ is subtle, and
easily missed in casual listening, but the overall effect is
like moving through the different regions of a vast cathedral
– unified by a single architect, but given differences of light
and shade though a variety of stained-glass windows.
One slight mystery
is that this appears to be a reissue of a CD on the GMN label,
with identical track listings, personnel and music; judging
by the sound samples on one website.
There is no acknowledgement of this in the Chandos booklet.
As you might expect, the music is exquisitely sung and beautifully
recorded. The Chapel of Trinity College has a pleasantly roomy
acoustic, blending the voices without becoming swimmy. If there
is any criticism on my part, then it might be the neutral, middle-distance
placing of the choir, which results in a more or less mf
dynamic for a great deal of the time, although this is of
course more or less how the music might be experienced in a
service setting. The choral sound has a very pleasant homogeneity
to it, with no voices leaping out at you, even at the most expressive
moments. Such a procession of ‘safe’ choral repertoire might
come across as monotonous, but in fact there is a great deal
of subtle variety, with numbers like the Jubilate Deo universa
terra providing some more lively contrast. Compared with
the more famous masses, it is fascinating hear how Palestrina
works with the more compact canvas of these shorter pieces.
One can have such
a CD on as an ambient aural tapestry, but listening with closer
attentiveness to the polyphonic lines rewards the mind and touches
feelings both remote and familiar. It makes a nice change to
hear these works in this collected context, and this disc is
a welcome member of the Renaissance catalogue.