Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594)

Masses and Motets
Laetamini in Domini (pub. 1593) [2:39]
Missa Ecce Ego Joannes [30:12]
Justorum Animae (pub. 1593) [4:04]
Missa Pater Noster [30:18]
Pater Noster (1675) [3:46]
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford/Stephen Darlington
rec. July 1996, Wyastone Leys
Texts included. DDD
NIMBUS NI5650 [71:04]
This disc is not new, having been recorded fifteen years ago, perhaps unusually not in Christ Church but at Nimbus’s HQ in Wyastone Leys in Monmouth. The core of the recital consists of two major masses. The six-part Missa Ecce Ego Joannes exemplifies the concentration on homophony and repetition that informed Palestrina’s settings, and is couched in self-confident, flowing, overlapping lines excellently realised by the Christ Church choir, where purity of voice production in the trebles is sorely needed – and achieved – not least in the difficult Credo. Stephen Darlington takes the Benedictus at a fine, forward-moving and very plausible tempo, and the work is realised with precision and authority.
Missa Pater Noster, in four parts, is a more interiorised setting, but it too is interpreted with a fine sense of restrained elegance. Noteworthy in particular is the attention given to the breadth and amplitude accorded to the Hosanna in excelsis, where Darlington ensures that a strong contrast is made between it and the opening Benedictus qui venit which he directs with refined articulation.
The disc is also notable for three other works, including two motets. The first of the two is Laetamini in Domini and it’s a compact and vital setting, the imitative writing being clearly depicted and relished. A more reserved setting is Justorum Animae though its well-sustained sense of meditative plasticity is finely modulated. Finally Pater Noster is a five-voice setting published in 1675 based on – but otherwise unrelated to – the same plainchant that Palestrina used for his mass of the same name.
These light, brightly projected performances are very satisfying indeed. I wasn’t sure how I would react to the new Wyastone acoustic but in the end I’m a convert. It has air but doesn’t billow. There are a number of recordings of the masses in the catalogue; for a different, and more obviously extrovert approach to the Missa Ecce Ego Joannes in particular you could do a lot worse than the Westminster Cathedral Choir and James O’Donnell’s outstanding performance [Hyperion CDA67099], though the couplings are otherwise different.
Jonathan Woolf
These light, brightly projected performances are very satisfying indeed.