Palestrina Music for Good Friday
Three selected readings from the Lamentations of Jeremiah are sung during the First Nocturn at Tenebrae on each of the last three days of Holy Week. In this recording we hear the Lamentations for Good Friday from the third of Palestrina's four settings, wonderful, sensitive compositions for four, five and six voices. Musica Contexta, under Simon Ravens, responds well to the music and its dark harmonies and unexpected modulations. In particular, the third Lamentation, with its repeated Hebrew letters ('Aleph, Aleph, Aleph'), was sung with power and understanding. I noted with pleasure that the singers had followed Guidetti's 1587 notated edition of the florid responsories that follow each of the Lamentations. Guidetti, a pupil of Palestrina and a singer in the Papal chapel, can tell us a great deal about the way in which the chant was sung in Rome in the 16th century. He uses four different note shapes to represent proportionate differences of duration.
In view of such rare enlightenment, it was disappointing that for the Reproaches and the music for the Veneration of the cross, the choir seemed to prefer to use modern chant books and a rather perfunctory and hurried modern interpretation for their alternation with Palestrina's quiet, almost hypnotic ternary rhythms. If they had only carried their research just that little bit further and had had the courage to adopt throughout a really slow tempo: there's plenty of evidence to prove the point, and printed service-books galore with full notation.'