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Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525/6-1594)
Cantica Salomonis - Song of Songs with Gregorian Antiphons (1584) [113:38]
Tractus/Gregorian Chant: Adducentur Regi virgines post eam [3:18]
Afferentur Regi virgines post eam [2:35]
Graduale/Gregorian Chant: Audi filia et vide [3:26]
Quam pulchri sun gressus tui [4:29]
Palestrina Ensemble Munich/Venanz Schubert
rec. Church of the University Women’s Hospital, Munich, Germany, 29-30 May 2005 and 8-10 June 2012.DDD
Sung texts and translations available online.
NAXOS 8.573096-97 [71:47 + 55:39]

Recorded in two separate sessions seven years apart, this rendition of Palestrina’s fourth book of madrigals represents the only recording to date released by the Palestrina Ensemble München. 

A long-time lover of the Cantica Salomonis, I’m afraid I was thoroughly disappointed by the vast majority of this album: the tuning was suspect, the diction sloppy and the phrasing uneven and unmusical. After a few tracks, the whole thing morphed into something extremely unmusical with the odd break provided by the various Gregorian antiphons.
 
Almost without exception, the motets end in a chord that is vocally forced and out of place, tagged onto the end in a way that practically screams "thank goodness we're at the end of the motet". Not only that, the chord is most often flat.
 
The Cantica are full of wonderful subtleties within each vocal line but most of these are lost. Whether the cause of that is the tenors, whose weak and unsupported singing means that anything above a middle C was barely there, or the basses whose entries were surprised and flat, the set of motets felt muddy. The altos make a valiant effort to counter this, but lose out in the end. The strongest section is that of the sopranos, who provide a tune over the viscous sounds underneath. It didn’t help that I could only listen to a handful of tracks at a time before having to give my ears a break from the suspect tuning and constant forte singing. Lack of dynamic contrast would be an understatement.
 
That said, there is a small turning point towards the end of the album. Sadly no reason is given for tagging on the motets and chants. They are sung with new energy, which, given the lack of that quality throughout the Cantica, was rather refreshing. If only they had maintained the quality of singing from these last four tracks throughout the whole disc - I would have enjoyed it much, much more.
 
The Gregorian chant is the best thing about this album, hands down. It was mostly in tune, though not without its problems, and sung in a musically appropriate fashion. Some of the solo singing in the Antiphons was absolutely beautiful particularly the solos by Laura Smith and Sarah Newman.
 
All things considered, there are other, superior recordings of the Cantica out there. I would go for any one of them. My favourite is that by the choir Magnificat and Philip Cave, released in 2001 (Linn CKD 174).
 
Though this album picked up a little towards the end, the main body of the disc - and the title under which it was released - is just too lacklustre to compensate.
 
Jake Barlow
twitter.com/countertenor_j
 


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