Giovanni Palestrina, Vol. 4 - The Sixteen; Harry Christophers


This is the fourth volume in the ongoing series by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen of some lesser known sacred music by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). The main work on the album is Palestrina's Missa O Magnum Mysterium, beautifully recorded by the choir's own record label, Coro, which has just over 100 titles on offer, almost all of them featuring The Sixteen.

With over 100 Masses and about 450 motets, sacred music was by far the greatest part of Palestrina's output. In addition to Missa O Magnum Mysterium, this Coro disc contains examples of the composer's hymns and motets, including the beautiful Marian Antiphon Ave Regina caelorum for double choir, an example of polychoral antiphony from the late Renaissance. The second portion of the album is given to a selection of secular madrigals from Palestrina's Song of Songs. Some of these appear liturgical enough, being based on Biblical texts while others are clearly secular on the subject of sensuous love and desire. The sample provided in the sidebar is the opening track on this album, the Kyrie from Missa O Magnum Mysterium. The video below has music from Palestrina's Gloria (which is not on this album), also performed by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen.

The music of Palestrina was described by Wagner as being timeless and spaceless, 'a spiritual revelation throughout'. With polyphony of utter purity, the Palestrina style has been a subject of study by composers for centuries. Long vocal lines flow in a continuous rhythm, imitative and with an original plainchant melodic motive for each phrase of the text. Melodies generally move in a stepwise motion with few leaps of intervals greater than a third, and those that do occur being immediately filled in by a step in the opposite direction. The result is an even, organic and graceful contour of sound with melodies from Gregorian chant being the very soil in which the music is rooted.

Recorded in January 2013 at the Church of St. Alban the Martyr in London, the recording has ambient warmth and the sound is ideally reverberated in the space. As an exponent of the music of Palestrina, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have few rivals. The performances are wonderful, the music is divine, and is essential listening in order to have any sort of a long view of the history of Western music.