British choral conductor Harry Christophers and his handpicked group the Sixteen have been around long enough that they can feel free to explore certain repertories in more detail, releasing the results on their own label, Coro. The familiarity extends to the sound environment: the group's engineers capture the vocal blend in startling detail in this recording, made at the Church of St. Alban the Martyr in London. Palestrina, with his complex but crystal-clear textures, is a composer well suited to the Sixteen's style, which is akin to that of the British cathedral choirs but more intimate, with a bit more texture in the voices. Now you get not just famous works of Palestrina, but a cycle of works (now up to volume 4, and it's not clear of what the cycle might consist -- surely not all of Palestrina's hundreds of works!) that go into greater depth. Several of the volumes thus far, including this one, have included a mass, the medium in which Palestrina displayed his most expansive architectural genius, together with a group of shorter works. It's a bit curious that the Missa O Magnum Mysterium heard here isn't accompanied by the motet on which it is based, although that motet is discussed in the booklet notes. But by listening to this release in conjunction with others in the set, you can get an idea of how Palestrina's unique sound world interacted with the structural principles in the music of his day. Several of the shorter works, too, are unusually beautiful: sample the Song of Songs settings (tracks 11-13). This is a worthwhile Palestrina release for newcomers as well as devotees of the composer who two generations ago was synonymous with Renaissance music but is lately even a bit underperformed.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa O Magnum Mysterium|