St. John's College Choir, Cambridge / George Guest

Gregorio Allegri: Miserere Mei

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Gregorio Allegri and his famous Miserere (which Mozart transcribed on one hearing) appear to be the central focus of this 2005 reissue from Meridian, but the program's roster -- Giovanni da Palestrina, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Annibale Orgas, Paolo Quagliati, Agostino Agazzari, Abundio Antonelli, Stefano Landi, and Giovanni Francesco Anerio -- reads like a who's who of composers of Roman Catholic music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Allegri's Miserere represents the austere a cappella choral style employed in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, noted particularly for its ornamentation over a simply harmonized chant in fauxbourdon. But in this transitional period, composers were either backward-looking, as may be discerned in Antonelli's pointedly archaic Cogitavi dies antiquos, or somewhat progressive and adventurous, as may be apparent in the concertante style of Anerio's Jubilemus in arca Domini Dei or in the expressive polychoral setting of Landi's In conventendo. The Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge, directed by George Guest, is remarkably pure and finely blended, and the organ accompaniment provided by Adrian Lucas is tastefully unobtrusive. Meridian's unprocessed recording from 1988 is outstanding for the time, and sounds almost as clean and natural as later DSD.

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