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GRAMOPHONE (09/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch


Like Josquin before him, Palestrina composed two Masses on the ‘L’homme armé’ tune, one for four voices on the Dorian, minor-inflected version of the song, and a more extended, earlier five-voice one, based on the Mixolydian, major-oriented one. (Intriguingly, the first ‘Kyrie’ has unmistakable echoes of the still more famous Papae Marcelli Mass.) By the standards of 15th-century settings of the famous tune, even the latter sounds relatively unostentatious, but it is an outgoing, engaging piece for all that, embodying the Roman Counter-Reformation spirit at its most confident. This sort of mood suits The Sixteen’s brightly focused choral sound, and Harry Christophers’s direction is unobtrusive but telling: the terraced approach to the final ‘Kyrie’ is a case in point, and the flowering into six voices in the concluding ‘Agnus Dei’ is particularly lovely. (A more intimate and idiosyncratic reading comes from the soloists of San Petronio in Bologna under Sergio Vartolo, who recorded both L’homme armé cycles for Naxos in the mid-1990s.)


Following the pattern established in previous instalments of this very impressive series, the disc also includes a series of motets and three further settings from Palestrina’s madrigal cycle from the Song of Songs. Uniformly penitential in nature, the motets form an effective contrast with the Mass, resulting in yet another convincing programme, albeit this time block-like and imposing (Tribularer si nescirem is impressively monumental but conveyed without portentousness). One suspects that an ensemble of The Sixteen’s acumen could have sought (and found) a touch more variety from piece to piece; that said, the moving De profundis manages, like Mozart, to be exquisitely sad in a ‘major’ mode.


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