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Roma Æterna
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599)
Regina Cæli for four voices [2:30]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Missa Papæ Marcelli for six voices [35:01]
Tu es Petrus for six voices [3:06]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA  (1548-1611)
Missa O quam gloriosum for four voices [25:06]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA
Sicut cervus/Sitivit anima mea for four voices [5:39]
New York Polyphony
Tim Keeler (countertenor), Andrew Fuchs (tenor), Jonathan Woody (bass-baritone)
rec. August 2015, St Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, USA.
Reviewed in surround.
BIS BIS-2203 SACD [72:07]

Palestrina preceded Victoria as chapel master of the Roman Seminary. Apart from this the younger composer seems to have little connection with the elder and indeed on the strength of the two main works performed on this disc, Victoria was the more cosmopolitan and less passionate in style. The four singers of New York Polyphony along with their three colleagues listed above produce some of the purest and most beautiful sounds I have ever heard in this music. The marketing paragraph reproduced in the liner notes refers to them being regarded as one of the finest in the world, I confess their name was entirely new to me but on the strength of this remarkable display of musicianship and virtuosity they seem to justify the description. The strength and unity of their approach combined with absolute accuracy of pitch makes this disc an essential purchase however many other performances you may own of the Palestrina Missa in particular.

The meticulously detailed BIS track listing shows exactly where plainchant propers are interpolated in the Missa Papæ Marcelli and Motets in the Victoria. This provides the fuller perspective for listening that the composers would have expected. Ivan Moody's brilliantly written liner notes help us, listening as we are to music from close-on half a millennium ago, to place these stunningly beautiful pieces in their context. Moody also tries his best to justify the curious album title 'Roma Æterna'; difficult because it refers to the lasting nature of the city despite changes in culture and politics, and this music is all from a short time in the late 16th century and has only theological eternity in mind.

BIS always make splendid recordings, but the acoustic of the St Cecilia Cathedral seems to have helped this recording to even greater clarity and spaciousness than normal. The 150 years of history behind St Cecilia's in Omaha seems to have culminated in acoustic expertise being brought to bear during the late 20th century which may be the reason this disc sounds so good. I cannot help but add a tale from their website about the collection of monies when cathedral reconstruction was needed around 1866. Apparently the efforts of one Father Kelly were remarkably successful partly because of this incident: "Entering a dance hall in a mining camp one day, one of the men demanded to know what he (Father Kelly) was doing there. 'I am collecting for a new cathedral in Omaha,' was the reply. Thereupon the Western man doffed his hat, drew his trusty six-shooter, and accompanied the astonished priest around the room, thus obtaining more than a hatful of money through this 'persuasive' method." Modern cathedral fundraising would probably prefer to eschew this approach!

Dave Billinge



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