Palestrina: Volume 6

The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
71:23
Missa L’Homme armé, Song of Songs 16–18
+De profundie clamavi, Parce mihi Domine, Peccantem me quotidie, Si ambulavero in medio tribulationis, Super flumina Babylonis, Tribularer si nescirem, Tribulationes civitatum

The Sixteen’s representative account of Palestrina’s music has reached volume six, and sticking to the tried and true formula of programming a handful of motets, some items from The Song of Songs and a Mass setting, they are singing the five-part Mass L’Homme armé with penitential and devotional settings. In the past I have felt that this series has sounded rather passionless, recorded as it seems at a reverential distance, and this CD too seems occasionally a little cold and dispassionate. The penitential motets include some of Palestrina’s most impassioned writing, and these suave performances seem to lack the edge necessary to bring this out fully. It seems odd to single Palestrina out for this rather bland treatment, possibly due to his retrospective reputation as the archetypal composer of flawless Renaissance church polyphony. In a similar way The Song of Songs material seems drained of much of the erotic charge it can be given by a smaller ensemble of voices.

Palestrina’s masterly five-part contribution to the L’Homme armé tradition evokes some attempt at more highly characterized singing from The Sixteen, but again the relatively large forces and the respectfully spacious acoustic take the edge off this account. Don’t get me wrong. These are beautifully sung accounts, perfectly blended and without the operatic wobble which threatened at one point to invade The Sixteen’s lovely sound, and those who like their polyphony to wash around them like an unthreatening warm bath will love them. I found them just too elegant and a little toothless.

D. James Ross