The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Vol. 3

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Harry Christophers, the conductor of the Sixteen, has said that with the group's large series of Palestrina recordings he hoped to add ebb and flow to the music and to get away from academic approaches. Accordingly, his mixed-gender choir avoids the pure sound of groups like the Tallis Scholars and adds some texture to the music. The biggest innovation of Christophers' series, however, lies not in the vocal technique (there are a lot of Palestrina recordings, and some approximate the sound heard here) but in the repertory. For all Palestrina's fame, it's generally the same set of pieces of his that get recorded, and simply for beginning to plumb the depths of Palestrina's output Christophers deserves credit. Better still, the variety of pieces he finds fits well with his somewhat more muscular approach. The music is linked by its Easter theme, but anyone who has thought of Palestrina's works as little static globes of polyphonic perfection should sample a piece like Terra tremuit (The Earth Trembles, track 9), with its spiky subjects and ingenious polyphony derived from them. The opening Stabat Mater reflects the highly emotional nature of that text more than one would usually expect from Palestrina, and the music passes through motets on various subjects and settings of three texts from the Song of Songs before returning to the more formal language with which Palestrina is usually associated: perhaps it is specifically connected to the Mass. The Sixteen might be called a group oriented toward, if not crossover success, at least communication with general audiences. But this strong release will appeal equally to serious lovers of Renaissance a cappella sacred music.

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