Various Artists

La Cappella Sistina

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This disc compiles performances dating back to 1996, covering composers of the Renaissance and early Baroque with some connection to the Sistine Chapel or Cappella Sistina in Rome. In several cases the connection is simply that copies of the composer's works exist in the chapel's archives, and there isn't a tight focus to the program and presentation. The most noticeable thing is that the booklet goes into some detail in describing the life of the 24-member Sistine Chapel Choir, but the music, when you get to it, is sung mostly by much smaller groups. Choir size is a hot matter of debate right now, and there is some justification for ensembles with just one or two singers per part. But it doesn't make sense in this context. Several of the ensembles also have adult female singers, despite the booklet's explanation that that was the one prohibited class during this time period. The sequence of the program, starting with Palestrina and moving forward to Carissimi and back as far as Dufay, seems close to random, and the shifts in sonic ambience from track to track are a bit unsettling. All this said, the individual performances have been well selected, and the listener new to music of the late Renaissance, probably the target audience for this release, will learn something about its basic expressive world from the notes. The almost lyrical performances of music by Costanzo Festa (not a really well-known name even for Renaissance music lovers) by the Cantica Symphonia under Dutch conductor Kees Boeke are especially nice. The disc is probably best suited to the task of getting to know something about Renaissance music during a commute and casting an eye over the booklet while stuck in traffic. It offers beauties aplenty when heard like that.

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