O vos omnes
Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Sicut cervus [2:48]
Pange lingua [3:48]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Ave verum corpus [3:47]
Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (c.1548-1611)
O vos omnes [4:04]
anon (England, 14th Century)
O homo considera/O hmo de pulvere/Filiae Jerusalem [1:46]
Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652)
Miserere mei, Deus [11:19]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
The Lamentations of Jeremiah [19:13]
O sacrum convivium [3:33]
Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola/Kent Tritle
rec. 2-3, 9 January 1998, Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York, USA. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS 1138 [50:43]
The forty days before Easter, comprising Lent and Holy Week, have always been a very important period in the Christian church. This was the time the faithful were urged to concentrate on the Passion of Jesus and what caused it: the sins of mankind. Most secular activities - including opera performances - were forbidden in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Since early times composers have written large amounts of music for this season. The repertoire includes the seven Penitential Psalms which were sung during Lent. In Holy Week it was in particular the Lamentations of Jeremiah which were performed. The closing formula, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord thy God", was especially appropriate for a period in which the church remembered the aversion from God as the main cause of Christ's suffering and death.
One specimen of each category is included in the programme on this disc. It is disappointing that both belong to the most famous and most frequently-recorded, even at the time this recording was made. This disc would have been much more interesting if lesser-known pieces had been chosen. The same is true of the other pieces in the programme. The motets by Byrd and Tallis are available in many recordings, and those by Victoria and Palestrina are certainly not unknown either. The obvious choices are especially regrettable as the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola is quite good. The four motets are beautifully sung, and the expressive aspects come off well. It is probably mainly due to the large reverberation that the texts are, for the most part, hard to understand.
The other works deserve some critical comment, though. The anonymous English motet is performed here with seven voices (tenors and basses) which is historically not very plausible. Many pieces from the 14th century are in three parts. It is generally assumed that these were sung with one voice per part. The fact that three texts are sung simultaneously speaks also in favour of a performance with solo voices.
Allegri's Miserere mei, Deus is one of the most famous vocal works in history. Unfortunately it is mostly heard in a form that has little to do with what Allegri wrote. Most performances make use of a 19th-century arrangement, whose main feature is the very high part for a solo soprano. That is also the version performed here. It would be a great step forward if conductors would have the honesty to inform their audiences about this. As the booklet for this production omits any programme notes the purchaser is left to believe that this is how Allegri meant his music to be sung.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah by Tallis is another famous and oft performed work which is sung here by the tenors and basses. They sing it quite well, but the blending of the voices isn't as good as that of the whole choir. Sometimes the upper part sounds a bit stressed; maybe the performance of this part by an alto would have been a better option. It is odd that in the lyrics in the booklet the Hebrew letters that precede every section of the Lamentations have been omitted.
Two last remarks. The plainchant is sung alternatively by the female and the male voices; the last stanza is performed in fauxbourdon. Notable is the rather swift speed in which most items are performed, in particular the Allegri and the Tallis Lamentations. I have the feeling that a slightly slower tempo would have been more appropriate.
To sum things up: the music is generally well sung, but the programme is hardly adventurous.
Johan van Veen
The music is generally well sung, but the programme is hardly adventurous.