Giovanni Pierluigi of Palestrina was a prolific composer of the Sixteenth Century; mostly he set sacred texts to music, although he also composed madrigals of a secular nature. He spent most of his life in Rome, composing masses, motets, and other religious works for church use. Late in his life he arranged for publication of many of his manuscripts, but many more were not published until years, even centuries, after his death in 1594.
Early in his career, Palestrina studied with German composers then living in Italy and learned their contrapuntal techniques. As a result, he became the first Italian composer to wed northern European counterpoint with Italian cantabile style, which was later widely imitated by other composers, both Italian and non-Italian. Counterpoint is woven into most of the selections on this CD, the third that The Sixteen have produced of Palestrina's music.
This CD focuses on music for the Easter cycle, leading off with Stabat Mater for eight vocal lines. This is one of Palestrina's best known works and is beautifully performed here. After a hymn with antiphons, three settings of verses from the Song of Songs, attributed to King Solomon but actually written centuries later, follow. (The first three songs are on Volume 2.) There are three offertories for Easter. The volume concludes with an Easter mass: "Missa Regina Caeli," based in part on a motet of the same name.
The Sixteen (actually, 18 voices are noted in the brochure) handle the complexities of this contrapuntal music adroitly and with beautiful singing in a polished performance. My favorite selections are the Stabat Mater and the three songs, but all this music is glorious, and sung gloriously. The sound quality, recorded in 2012, is outstanding. The enclosed brochure is informative about Palestrina and about the selections on this disk. A translation of the Latin verses is included, along with info about the Sixteen and their director, Harry Christophers. If you like Palestrina's sacred a cappella music, you'll love this volume and the preceding two volumes as well. (Vol. 3 is also available as an MP3 download.)