The great master of Renaissance counterpoint sung by 20th ce
Craig Matteson | Ann Arbor, MI | 10/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is considered by many to be the greatest composer of liturgical music of all time. Born in obscurity, his birth year is debated, but it was sometime between 1514 and 1526 and died world famous in Rome in 1594. Palestrina was not a priest. He married and had two sons. In the 1570s he lost a brother, his wife, and two sons in three separate epidemics of plague. He then considered becoming a priest, but changed his mind and married a wealthy widow, his church position did not pay very well (do they ever?), and continued with his composition.
The style of composition he developed took the countrapuntal methods of the Renaissance with a personal style that emphasized smooth voice leading and the beauty of sound from the voices. In many ways, the Baroque style, founded in Italy around the time of Palestrina's death, was a reaction against the powerful cultural presence Palestrina's music had become. I understand the desire of the Baroque composers to express the words more directly, but to say that Palestrina did not express the meaning of the words in his music is a gross oversimplification.
When I hear these settings of the ordinary of the Mass I am still shocked at their beauty and transcendence. Every now and again someone tells me that they find Palestrina's music boring and I am dumbfounded. What could they possibly be hearing? My conclusion is that they are trying to listen for functional harmony supporting a single melody because that is the kind of music they know. Yet, that listening technique will not only cheat you of Palestrina and all of Renaissance music, but of most of Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries as well. While Bach does appear to have functional harmony, and at times he does, his real glory is his matchless counterpoint. For that matter, all the great "classical" composers through Brahms were also great writers of counterpoint, but it is at a level of remove from the surface after Bach.
The Tallis Scholars deserve their fame. Their sound is amazingly beautiful, their intonation is perfection, and their clarity a delight. Any issues of performance practice "inaccuracies" are just silly. The whole point of musical performance is to come up with something that convinces and delights. Scholarship is supposed to support that end. In the end, an overly fussy approach to performance cheats one of everything because if a performance doesn't please its hearers and performers it will disappear back to the shelves with all the other unperformed music. I like hearing this music performed with boy trebles, but I also like hearing it performed by skilled women who take a careful approach to they way this music is sung. In the end, it is how it sounds, not who makes the sounds.
If you do not know the music of Palestrina, these disks are a marvelous introduction. He was important enough to become a shorthand for an entire era of music and became a model for counterpoint for centuries of composers."
Anachronistic but amazing...
Maddy Evil | London, UK | 07/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 2-CD release is a combination of previous Tallis Scholars discs; alongside Palestrina's most famous work - the Missa Papae Marcelli - is another freely composed Mass (Brevis), 2 parody Masses and their respective motets (Assumpta est Maria; Sicut lilium), and also his setting of the Lamentations for Holy Saturday, Lesson 3 (6vv).
Regarding historical accuracy, there are clearly several issues with these performances, perhaps most obviously in the use of sopranos as opposed to the original falsettists (or castrati). Similarly, in the papal choir - as was in fact the norm elsewhere in late 16th-century Europe - the alto parts would have been sung by high tenors, not countertenors. Recent Palestrina scholarship has also shown that one-per-part performance was likely; indeed, it was almost certainly the case in polyphony for Holy Week (such as the Lamentations), although the Tallis Scholars' 2-per-part allocation is considerably more plausible than choirs with a massive treble section. Lastly, the solo singers probably added lavish ornaments to the relatively plain lines of Palestrina's music, and they were sometimes accompanied by an organ or sackbut (see Graham Dixon, 'The Performance of Palestrina', Early Music [November 1994], 667-75).
Of course, none of this would concern Peter Phillips. He has always been deeply suspicious of the merits of 'authenticity', being primarily concerned instead with creating 'beautiful sounds' (see his interview in Bernard Sherman, Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers [Oxford, 1997] and his article 'Beyond Authenticity' in Knighton & Fallows (eds.), Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music [Oxford, 1997])
Yet is it really surprising that choral, mixed-voiced, "Notentreu" interpretations of Palestrina dominate when recordings of this calibre are produced...? The accuracy of intonation, blending and indeed 'beautiful sound' achieved by this ensemble are matched by only a handful of others - no treble choir comes close, in my view. It is surely significant that the first disc, when originally released, was awarded the 'Gramophone' Early Music Award for 1991 by musicologists (like David Fallows and John Milsom) who are normally anxious to point out historical inaccuracies. What could better demonstrate how wonderful these performances really are...?
'Authentic' Palestrina...? Try: 1. Andrew Parrott's Allegri:Music of the Sistine Chapel/Musica della Cappella Sistina recording of the Stabat Mater, O beata et benedicta, Jubilate Deo & Dum complerentur on Virgin Veritas (1-per-part with added ornaments). 2. Sergio Vartolo's Palestrina: Masses and Motets Vol. 2 - Missa sine nomine; Missa L'homme armé; Three Motets on Naxos (1-per-part with organ accompaniment). "
Lovely Recordings of Great Mass Settings
Michael G. Radigan | Aberdeen, New Jersey | 02/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Good performances of Palestrina's polyphonically complex choral masterpieces are difficult. One false note and the entire piece fails. In this beautiful set of recordings, the Tallis Scholars focus on a few of Palestrina's 107 Mass settings, and they never miss: they sing these masterworks with passion, clarity, and accuracy. Any quibbles about the authenticity of the use of sopranos are precisely that. A good introduction to one of the West's greatest composers and essential for any lover of great sacred music or Renaissance classics."
*** Transportively Enchanting & Sublime
Avid Reader | 10/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The music here is pure glory and highly recommended. The voices ascend harmonically & beam with the hearts of a thousand churches, so you can almost smell the frankincense and feel the penetration of the great rose windows from this meditative collection. Sample online and get a taste of the harmonies yourself."
Keeps the listener coming back
TheodenKing | Texas | 07/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own one other version of the timeless Pope Marcellus mass (choir of westminster abbey) and have heard many other recordings of it but upon sampling the many different recordings available online this particular selection drew me in like no other.
Other reviewers have already given the history of Giovanni and the lack of authenticity displayed by Philips and the Tallis Scholars but nearly everyone agrees that this recording is not "just another" flawless recording but one sung angelically, worthy of the heavens. I've never heard a richer sound from any choral group performing Renaissance music, and only Stephen Layton's Polyphony has what I consider a richer sound.
Besides the ultrafamous Marcellus Mass, this CD contains three others: the Assumpta Est Maria and Missa Brevis, both of which sound as familiar as any other uplifting mass, and the Missa Sicut, a very different kind of mass which is time-weary and sad but just as beautiful as the others. Each mass also has it's respective motet with the addition of the Lamentations track, also a little darker than the "main" masses.
But if you're shopping around for the "definitive" recording of the Pope Marcellus mass or just looking for high-quality Renaissance music in general (not-authentic but beautiful regardless), this CD is what you are looking for. Even if you just want some beautiful acapella choral music, this should satisfy you. It lifts to a place beyond the normal world. But don't take my word for it. Sample the many available recordings. I haven't yet found one which tops this."