The Sixteen and their leader Harry Christophers have long been among the most popular groups on the British choral scene. They have plenty of laurels to rest on, and thus they're to be commended for their ambitious, large-scale Palestrina project, launched in the mid-2010s and reaching its seventh volume with this album. Palestrina is a composer for whom the same few works seem to be recorded over and over, and the Sixteen's albums, which have been rewarded with top chart placement, will broaden listeners' perspectives on this rather misunderstood composer. The Sixteen here actually consist of 16 singers, although they expand slightly for a few multipart works, and they sing not only with their usual sheen, but with real engagement with the texts. The program here falls into three parts, all of them offering music different from the large, multipart motets and the Pope Marcellus Mass for which Palestrina is usually known. The music is thematically linked, all of it dealing with Mary or other women in the Bible, and it embodies the Palestrinian version of the devotional tone generally associated with Mary. Even the final Missa Ave Regina Caelorum is relatively spare, although the texture thickens at the end. Most interesting are three pieces from a group of settings of the Song of Songs, the sexiest, but perhaps most symbolic of the Bible's text: they are nonliturgical works intended for individual contemplation, and Palestrina's almost seductively melodic realizations sold well into the 17th century. Either alone or as part of the Sixteen's ongoing project, this is a highly recommended outing.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa Ave Regina Caelorum|