PALESTRINA Missa O Magnum Mysterium
Harry Christophers’s Palestrina series continues with a Mass based on one of his own motets, O magnum mysterium (a text perhaps best known today from Victoria’s setting). It is no less fine a work than we’ve grown accustomed to in this series, and presents some intriguing features stylistically, not least apparent nods in the direction of older stylistic idioms (its melodic turns are frequently reminiscent of Josquin, for example). For all the poignancy of the work’s minor-mode cast, The Sixteen turn in a spirited, at times even sprightly performance; the triple-time sections fairly trip along, at times perhaps too much so – the ‘Hosanna’ is almost breathless. That said, the form of the longer movements (the Credo in particular) is very legible. My only real quibble is in the choice of plainchant (for the intonations and the Agnus II), which does not match up with the work’s mode. The rest of the recital follows the pattern established for the series so far: a hymn, a Magnificat, a few motets and a selection from the composer’s Song of Songs cycle. These latter, from the languorous heart of the set, are taken so slowly that their madrigal character is almost entirely lost – a danger that loomed in previous instalments and catches up here in earnest. This loss of definition blunts the intensity of the latter part of the recital, fine as it is in many ways. With dozens of other Masses still to choose from, it’s an open question how long this series will run, but perhaps a little shake
of the kaleidoscope would do no harm.