Raffaele Puccianti

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa O Regem Coeli

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This disc offers an almost unknown work from Palestrina's large corpus: the early Missa O Regem Coeli, from around 1554. The young Palestrina was always somewhat neglected during the period when Palestrina was venerated over all other Renaissance composers, perhaps because that phase of his career didn't fit the grand historical narrative by which the composer rescued music from the dictates of the Council of Trent by writing beautiful works that complied with the mandated text intelligibility, and "blushed and grieved" to have written secular madrigals. The whole story has the reek of Romantic mythmaking. And in any case, the music on this disc helps give it the lie. The Missa O Regem Coeli, in four voices, is a parody mass (also known as an imitation mass) with a motet by Flemish composer Andreas de Silva as a model; the disc opens with the model. Palestrina's mass does not have the carefully worked out density of his later masses, and indeed of the Stabat Mater, Nunc dimittis, and motet Tu es Petrus that round out the album. But his style is entirely recognizable in its clarity, careful control of dissonance, attention to text intelligibility, and vocal lines that seem to fit together inevitably, like the figures in the paintings of the elderly Tiziano that were appearing around the same time. The rather extensively named Opera Polifonica dell'Accademia Musicale di Firenze and leader Raffaele Puccianti offer clean Palestrina singing of the old school. It is a mixed-gender group with 16 voices. The women sing mostly without vibrato and emulate the sound of boy choristers, but the group uses the slight variations in timbre that result from its size and gender composition to focus the listener's attention on the subtler details of Palestrina's handiwork. The sound environment of Florence's Church of S. Leonardo in Arcetri is ideal, and one imagines that the Roman Palestrina would have been delighted by its transparency. A must for libraries and those who love Palestrina.

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