Ensemble Officium / Wilfried Rombach

Palestrina: Messa di Santa Cecilia

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This intriguing disc offers what must be one of the European tradition's first examples of collaborative composition. The "Compagnia dei Musici di Roma" mentioned in the title was a group of top Roman composers during the tenure of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585). They issued a collection of madrigals with contributions by its individual members, among other works. By this time Palestrina was well established as an exemplary Roman composer, a status he has yet to fully relinquish. His status is demonstrated by the Missa Cantantibus Organis recorded here, based on a Palestrina motet. A total of eight composers, including Palestrina himself, were involved, with the Kyrie and Credo each split into three sections and the Gloria into two. The mass is a splendid work, expanding the five voices of Palestrina's model to a thick 12-voice texture, and it has apparently never been recorded before. It's quite a find. The question that may occur to the potential buyer is whether the music by the other composers, largely unknown, is "as good" as that of Palestrina. The music will be of intense interest to those studying the Palestrina style and how it became a tradition, but a tentative hypothesis might be that the 12-voice texture is deployed in such a way as to accommodate composers of varying talents. The Missa Cantantibus Organis is a work in broad, colorful strokes, not quite with the extreme subtlety of texture of Palestrina but imbued with his basic musical values. The mass is surrounded by Palestrina motets, including the one it parodies. All texts are given in Latin, German, French, and English, and the booklet essays appear in the last three of those. The warm, rich sound of the German choir Ensemble Officium is beautifully suited to all the music, and technically the disc is superb in both its musical execution and its Super Audio sound. A fine collection addition for any listener who likes Palestrina, and a must for any library collection of Renaissance music recordings.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Missa Cantantibus Organis, for 12 voices
2 5:31
3 6:57
4 11:53
5 4:01
6 4:58
blue highlight denotes track pick