PALESTRINA Missa Iam Christus Astra Ascenderat
The Sixteen’s Palestrina series marches on, following a formula now firmly established in earlier instalments: a Mass, a hymn, a Magnificat and three madrigals from the 1584 publication setting the Song of Songs. The moods here are nicely contrasted: the opening Dum complerentur must be one of the composer’s most splendid motets, and the four-voice Mass Iam Christus astra ascenderat is a more inward-looking but by no means subdued work. The similarity of the plainchant on which it’s based with the famous Virgo prudentissima means that those who know the latter will nearly always feel on familiar ground.
As far as I’m aware, this is the first recording of this work and also the first four-voice Mass to feature in The Sixteen’s series, making good on Harry Christophers’s seeming commitment to present a fully rounded view of the composer. As so often, Palestrina expands the scoring in the final Agnus by adding an extra voice, and the gain in elaborateness is particularly satisfying. Another familiar chant is the Veni Sancte Spiritus, which the composer sets to a sumptuous double choir. The momentary move to triple time (in honour of the third person of the Trinity, perhaps?) brings a pleasing lilt, transfiguring it.
By now those familiar with the series will know what to expect; but the danger of over-familiarity I broached in reviewing Vol 4 seems to have receded. The energy that The Sixteen bring to their Palestrina is admirable, though I continue to hope for a surprise in the format to keep the series on its toes.