The Choir of St Luke in the Fields, David Shuler
MSR Classics MS1698
After their recent successful recording of music by Pierre de Manchicourt, this New York group has turned its attention to more familiar fare by Palestrina; this also means entering a much more competitive field. These are solid performances with some undoubted highlights, though the quality of the vocal sound is not always consistent. There are fourteen singers in the group, roughly two per part in the six-voice music which dominates this disc. I particularly like the strong sense of the tactus (pulse) which goes through everything they sing. Praiseworthy, too, is the good blend and a resonant recording environment which still allows voice-leading and contrapuntal writing to come through clearly. As well as the motet Tu es Petrus and the Mass based on it, they perform five other pieces. I particularly enjoyed two five-voice motets, Caro mea and the Offertory Improperium expectavit: both achieve a rounded balance sometimes lacking in the other pieces. In other cases openings are a bit tentative or rough, vowels are not always well blended, and tuning and support is not consistently maintained. That said, this recording presents a good cross-section of Palestrina’s more forward-looking music, much of it relying on antiphonal exchange between two voice groupings, and culminates in the double-choir Surrexit pastor bonus. This piece represents late Palestrina and shows us where the Roman polychoral idiom would head in the next generation. Sleeve notes are informative and contain all texts and translations. A stimulating disc with some gems.
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