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Plainchant Benedicta es* [2:25]
Josquin des PRÉS (c.1440-1521) Benedicta es (c.1500)* [6:57]
Giovanni Pierluigi de PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594)
Missa Benedicta es (c.1562)* [41:21]
Missa nasce la gioja mia (c.1562)+ [24:43]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 1981* and 1986+ DDD
Booklet with texts and translations available for download
GIMELL gImse402 [75:28]


Experience Classicsonline


This review is by way of a postscript to my colleague RH’s appreciation of the CD reissue of this recording (see review).  As a late convert to downloading, disappointed at the poor quality of many mp3 downloads at as low as 128kbps, I decided to try the 320kbps recordings offered by Chandos and, more recently, by Gimell (link to home-page)

This Palestrina recording, one of Gimell’s 25th-anniversary reissues, is available at £5.99 in mp3 format and £6.99 in CD-quality WMA or FLAC format.  I downloaded the former and was very pleasantly surprised.  Even in such demanding music, the recording was more than satisfactory.  Admittedly, my hearing, now well into its seventh decade, is less acute than it was, but the quality of this download is certainly superior to BBC Radio 3’s 192kbps on DAB.  Though these recordings are over twenty years old and, presumably, in 16-bit sound – Gimell offer their latest downloads in 24-bit quality which is actually superior to CD sound – they might have been freshly recorded.  The clarity of sound, so characteristic of the Tallis Scholars is no whit diminished.  The mp3 download takes up only 173MB; the lossless versions take up more of your monthly allocation; they run to 291 and 294MB.

RH described the reissue as a wonderful treat for lovers of Palestrina’s music, amongst whom I certainly count myself.  Much as I love the work of other polyphonic composers, it is to Palestrina that I return with the greatest satisfaction.  I cannot quarrel in that respect with the judgement of Organ Morgan in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, whose number one composer was “Johann Sebastian mighty Bach ... and afterwards Palestrina”.

These may not be Palestrina’s best-known works – that honour must go to the Missa Papæ Marcelli, especially since it recently featured on BBC4’s Sacred Music series – and I had not come across either Mass before, but it is in no way inferior to his better-known music  (but see below for the Tallis Scholars’ own recording of the Missa Papæ Marcelli). 

Musicologists will find special interest in the echoes of that great master of an earlier generation of polyphonic composers, Josquin, whose setting of Beata es provides the inspiration for the first of these works.  Track 1 offers the plainchant setting of that piece in honour of the Virgin Mary, followed on track 2 by Josquin’s version. 

Both Masses are, in fact, inspired by the works of earlier composers, Nasce la gioja mia being based on a madrigal by Primavera, but the general listener need not worry about any such considerations – just sit back and enjoy.  The Primavera madrigal itself is no longer included on an already very well-filled recording, as it was in its earlier coupling, which is still listed in the current Penguin Guide. 

As RH notes, scholarly thinking and practice have both moved on since the Tallis Scholars’ earliest recordings, but these early performances are still well worth hearing.  I note that their earliest recording, of Allegri’s Miserere and the Missa Papæ Marcelli, first issued on a Classics for Pleasure LP, is also included in the anniversary reissues at the same low price.  I well remember the enjoyment of hearing that recording and look forward to making its acquaintance again, though my library is well stocked with other versions of the ubiquitous Allegri and Papæ Marcelli.

Yes, other groups, such as Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano, offer a more exciting sound in Renaissance repertoire – and I certainly prefer their Monteverdi to just about every other version on offer – but there is still much to be said for the more contemplative style on this Gimell recording.  The excitement is inherent in the music as it soars in the musical equivalent of high-vaulted ecclesiastical architecture.  In any case, I believe that this is the only recording of either of these Masses.

I follow RH’s drift, too, when he mentions the different perspective which the inclusion of plainsong propers can bring to the performance of such music.  Much as I appreciate the value of such an enterprise when well performed – Paul McCreesh’s various liturgical reconstructions on Virgin and DGG Archiv are a prime example – I welcome the opportunity here just to soak up the polyphony without interruption.  And, to conclude by quoting RH again, “you cannot go wrong with the stylish perfection of the Tallis Scholars”.

Download the music, using the free Download Manager which Gimell offer, if you don’t already have one, play the tracks via the PC or burn the results onto a CDR – I still like to have a physical object to hold and play – and you have a treasurable experience to repeat as often as you wish.  Don’t forget to download and print out the booklet – the full version, with excellent notes and texts, as included with the CD.  Don’t panic if nothing seems to happen for a long time when you play the recording – Gimell like to preface the music with quite a long period of ambiance on all their recordings. 

If you don’t wish to download, just buy the CD but, one way or another, get this recording. 

The quality of this download has already led me to follow up with Gimell’s more recent version of Josquin’s Missa Sine Nomine and Missa ad Fugam (CDGIM039), with equal satisfaction – expect my enthusiastic review shortly.

Brian Wilson


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