PALESTRINA Choral works, Vol 7
After a hiatus of a couple of years The Sixteen’s Palestrina project resumes, this time featuring music for female saints and biblical figures – Mary of course, but also the Magdalen, Barbara and Susanna. The disc opens with a Resurrection motet, told from the perspective of the three women who discover Christ’s empty tomb. This selection is especially astute programatically, with its echos of the Song of Songs cycle that has been a regular feature of the project from the outset. Most of these motets are on a comparatively large scale, matched by The Sixteen’s comparatively monumental delivery, which doesn’t exclude a certain sprightliness at the end of the Susanna motet, for example, or at the ‘Et resurrexit’ of the Mass.
For as has also been the case throughout, the centrepiece is a Mass, based this time on one of the more famous and musically significant Marian antiphons, Ave regina caelorum. Its gentle cast gives The Sixteen a chance to inhabit a more restrained idiom. The Kyrie promises as much, but whenever the text licenses it (in the longer movements particularly) that triumphant note creeps back in. This is Palestrina as Counter-Reformation poster-boy, a view to which we’ve got used from previous instalments (and from many other ensembles, to be fair). It’s often admirably executed; but there are other sides to the composer, and this Mass in particular seemed to invite a more expressive, even intimate approach. Once or twice there are slight signs of strain, too (towards the end of the Credo at ‘qui locutus est per Prophetas, et unam sanctam …’); perhaps a more rhapsodic demeanour wouldn’t have gone amiss. The Sixteen have achieved much in this series; I hope they’ll have kept a surprise or two up their sleeves before it’s done.