A SCARLATTI Messa Clementina
Missa Clementina, the first of Scarlatti’s Masses dedicated to Pope Clement XI, was composed in 1705; autograph material in the Vatican Library bears Cardinal Ottoboni’s statement that the manuscript part-books were prepared especially for use at the Sistine Chapel. Written in five voice parts, increasing to seven in the Agnus Dei, Scarlatti moulded the Missa Clementina in the style of late-Renaissance polyphony, which is why Louis Castelain intersperses it with two Palestrina motets both apparently in the Sistine Chapel Choir’s repertory at the same period (Tu es Petrus and Surrexit pastor bonus).
The choir of Le Parnasse Français use one solo voice per part, as research has revealed was the normal practice for the Pope’s private chapel choir. The tenor line dominates a mite on occasion but the ensemble’s textural transparency, clarity of diction and sense of phrasing are of the highest order. Castelain’s pacing and shaping are spot-on and his singers produce ample luminosity on open contrapuntal vowels without ever losing touch with the sense of the texts (for instance, listen to the fluidity, articulate beauty and holistic expressivity during the Agnus Dei).
Two other works for Rome in the ‘ancient style’ unveil some extraordinary harmonic surprises and deft uses of variety within a cappella textures: a penitential Salve regina might have been sung at thanksgiving services after earthquakes near Rome in early 1703, whereas an eight-voice O magnum mysterium was composed for Santa Maria Maggiore at Christmas 1705; Le Parnasse Français’s spellbinding singing paints an image of Scarlatti’s church music that is surprisingly close to the spirit of Lassus.