Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594)
Missa Brevis, for 4 voices (1570) [27:23]
Missa Lauda Sion, for 4 voices (1582) [28:30]
Super Flumina Babylonis, motet for 4 voices (1584) [4:00]
Sicut Cervus, motet for 4 voices (1584) [5:52]
+Missa 'L'Homme Armé', for 5 voices (1570) [38:54]
+Missa 'Assumpta est Maria', for 6 voices [34:46]
#Fourth Book of Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, four 5 and 6 voices: (i. In Coena Domini (Maundy Thursday) [25:16]; ii. In Parasceve (Good Friday) [25:00]; iii. Sabbato Sancto (Holy Saturday) [23:56])
>Missa 'Aeterna Christi Munera', for 4 voices (1590) [29:48]
*Missa Papae Marcelli, for 6 voices (1567) [46:46]
*Stabat Mater, for 8 voices [11:45]
~Missa 'L'Homme Armé', for 4 voices (1582) [31:08]
>Aeterna Christi Munera [2:31]
Pro Cantione Antiqua/Mark Brown; #Bruno Turner
rec. no information supplied. +1990. #1988. *31 January and 1 February 1987, St. Alban's Church, Brooke Street, London. ~All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 19-22 February 1990. DDD/*>ADD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94266 [5 CDs: 73:44 + 74:38 + 65:46 + 63:31 + 58:32] 

If this 5-disc boxed set rings a bell it is because Brilliant first issued it with different artwork in 2005, with what looks confusingly like a later serial number (99711). Though licensed directly from Pro Cantione Antiqua (PCA) themselves, these recordings originally appeared on Carlton Classics in the 1980s or 1990s, and variously turn up on a regular basis on some compilation or other reissue.
However, this box from Brilliant has two advantages over most, if not all others. First, it concentrates entirely on Palestrina, not only one of the most influential composers of all time, but one of the most fertile. There are seven of his monumental Masses, each lasting on average over half an hour. Incredible to think that Palestrina wrote over a hundred - and much more besides.
Second, this set is available at a truly bargain price - a little over £10 to the intrepid surfer. Though the PCA do not in fact quite achieve the excellence of the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips in their recording of the Papae Marcelli, Assumpta est Maria and the Brevis for Gimell (CDGIM 204, 2 CDs), this must be the most affordable high-quality introductory survey of some of the composer's finest works.
Palestrina's music has a glorious sound, but is fundamentally meditative and solemn, and perhaps, to the unsuspecting listener, somewhat austere, especially in the earlier works. He was a conservative composer - he had to be, given his position of influence in the Roman Catholic Church. Much of his writing is 'old-school' modal counterpoint with many references to plainchant. On the other hand, his music did evolve into a more chordal, harmonic, abstract style that can at times sound surprisingly modern. Either way, the part-writing is always so exquisitely achieved that the melodic lines sing out with great purity and transcendental beauty.
Talking of singing out, the voices of the PCA in these recordings are, on the whole, of a consistently impressive standard. There are some minor moments of flagging intonation and possibly concentration in places, most notably on the Bruno Turner disc. Palestrina asks an awful lot of his singers, and PCA deliver almost unfailingly. Latin purists, if they still exist, need not get excited though: whilst PCA's enunciation is mainly fine, their pronunciation certainly leaves room for improvement, and many non-English voices would do this better. Sins typical of English singers committed here include a [z] sound where there should be a [s] in 'miserere', the non-articulation of a flapped 'r' in the Italian style, and the abomination [chelum] for 'coelum', itself a misspelling of 'caelum'.
Sound quality is very good, despite the varying origins of individual recordings. Some have more cathedral-like resonance than others, but extremes have sensibly been avoided.
Though the clamshell-style case has a glossy, quality feel to it, the supplied booklet contains only the sung texts in Latin. In other words, no recording details, no information about Palestrina or the works and their historical context. The track-listing does not say, therefore, which of Palestrina's two Stabat Maters this one is. The plainchant hymn Aeterna Christi Munera is listed as Palestrina's, which is not the case. The CD devoted to the magnificent Lamentations of Jeremiah is particularly in need of some explanatory note as to what the track-listing means or what the music is about. Not everyone will understand what Feria VI in Parasceve is, or what it has to do with the Lamentations. The information given above is drawn from New Grove, a source readily available to Brilliant. Most people would, I think prefer to forego the texts, which are widely available and known, and have some background essay to read whilst listening to Palestrina's superb music.
Whatever the minor faults, though, the price is still right.
Collected reviews and contact at
Palestrina's superb music: great purity and transcendental beauty.