British choir the Sixteen (actually 18 voices strong in this recording) has proclaimed itself "the voice of Classic FM," Britain's crossover-oriented radio networks, and they have released plenty of Renaissance and Baroque compilations whose most prominent feature is that they are easy on the ears. The choir is undeniably strong technically, and it's a pleasure to find them delving into less familiar repertory, including here the works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina beyond the three or four that are generally recorded and taken as exemplary of his style. The Sixteen have always offered a clean but slightly sensuous sound that's tailor-made for Palestrina, and here they deploy it in some marvelous works. The Missa Iam Christus Astra Ascenderat, accompanied on the program by the plainchant hymn that serves as its cantus firmus, is something of an opposite number to the famous Pope Marcellus Mass: it is dense in linear ways rather than vertically. The chant is manipulated with great subtlety and inventiveness, and it is quite apparent in the texture. If it's the large spaces of the Pope Marcellus Mass you enjoy, try the motet Loquebantur variis linguis (track 2) or the concluding Magnificat quarti toni. Most beautiful of all perhaps are the three limpid settings from the biblical Song of Songs, which were popular in Palestrina's own time. Strongly recommended for anyone at all with an interest in the great conservative of Italian Renaissance music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Missa Iam Christus Astra Ascenderat|