33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina is sometimes called the greatest composer of the Roman Catholic church. Born in 1525 near Rome, he spent the better part of his career in service to the church as a choir member, choir master, conductor, composer and school master. He was sought after by many churches, and sometimes his popularity and skill got him into trouble both with his clerical patrons and with fellow musicians. He was offered prestigious positions in Rome and Vienna which were ultimately withdrawn because Palestrina's salary and conditions requirements were too high. He had some influence on the Council of Trent's musical decisions for reform of the Catholic worship practices, and was involved intimately with revising the Gradual and produced a harmonised version of the Latin Hymnal in 1589. He died in 1594.
The first mass presented here is Missa Papae Marcelli. Written in the 1550s, it wasn't published until the next decade. Pope Marcellus was only pope for a few weeks, but managed to endear himself to composers and conductors by insisting upon clarity as the highest of virtues for choristers. There is a joy to this, as Palestrina is definitely in the mode of celebrating the life of Pope Marcellus. This is one of Palestrina's most recorded works.
The second mass, Missa Aeterna Christi Munera is likewise a strong composition, although it is much less known than the first. Palestrina wrote over 100 masses in his lifetime (in addition to a wide range of other pieces), so it is not surprising that there might be some relatively overlooked. This particular mass has a more solemn tone to it, but still soars magnificently, and has no real flaws in composition.
--Oxford Camerata and Jeremy Summerly--
The performance of both of these pieces is superb. Perhaps the better performance belongs to the second mass; the Camerata has twelve singers, who double on the six-voice Missa Papae Marcelli, but are able to triple on the four-voice Missa Aeterna Christi Munera. They play with tempo and expression in new ways. The Oxford Camerata was formed in the early 1990s under the direction of Jeremy Summerly - this disc is their second recording. (Legend has it there was a cement mixer just outside the Dorchester Abbey, and that the recording engineers missed the first session for recording due to car trouble.)
Summerly's direction and selection of material and interpretation is such that it bears watching in the future.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2002
From the opening bars of Missa Papae Marcelli you'll understand
how the Council of Trent were moved not to ban polyphony. Also
on the disc is the Missa Aeterna Christi Munera another of 104
masses of the legacy left to us by Palestrina.
The standard of singing throughout the disc is exceptional, with
clear warm tones in all parts interweaving. Their is a real
sense of ensemble within the singers with each part giving way
as the subject darts between voices.
I heartily recomend this disc to anybody, especially those with
no experince of this master of the art of polyphony. At this price worth the experiment. For those more seasoned in Renaissance music, this disc is compares well with it's full price conterparts by groups such as The Sixteeen and The Tallis Scholars.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2000
The opening seconds of this cd shot straight through me the first time I heard it. They are stunningly beautiful. This is certainly the best recording of Palestrina's music available. The music comes from an age when sacred music was still, to my mind, pure and somehow distilled. The mass washes over and through your mind in waves and you cannot help but be uplifted by the intensity and clarity of expression.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Long my favourite Mass setting, Palestrina's "Missa Papae Marcelli" is one of a handful I would reach for if I were trying to convert a listener to the joys of Renaissance polyphony. It is a marvel of smooth, soaring exaltation here beautifully performed by choral stalwarts the Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerly, who recorded so much for Naxos in its early days when they were building up a polyphonic catalogue.
This is one two superb versions: the other is the celebrated 1980 Gimell recording by the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips, coupled with an ethereal Allegri "Miserere". The Tallis interpretation is marginally slower and steadier whereas the Naxos recording is more animated, inclined to emphasise accents and dynamically varied. I love both and decline to choose between them but the acoustic of Dorchester Abbey for the Oxford Camerata is marginally more atmospheric than that of Merton College Chapel, spacious yet also allowing details to emerge; the acoustic of the Oxford venue is grander and vaguer in effect. The Camerata are probably half the size of the Tallis ensemble but they make a rich, full sound.
The status of the work itself has been enhanced both by the enduring legend that it singly convinced the Council of Trent of the unwisdom of banning polyphony in favour of solely plainsong and by its being written for a pope whose reign lasted a mere three weeks. Its polemic function appears even more ironic if one agrees that that Palestrina subversively incorporated references to one of the most popular secular songs of the day, "L'homme armé". It is a miraculously limpid and succinct composition, the text emerging clearly and the whole sung Mass lasting only thirty-five minutes. It is coupled with the even briefer "Missa Aeterna Christi Munera", an even plainer and sparer late work; together these two masses form the perfect introduction to the austere beauties of Palestrina's style.
The usual virtues of this ensemble are much in evidence: directness, unity, totally secure intonation and a perfect balance between the vocal lines. The disc is short measure at 56 minutes, so watch out for the earlier issues of this disc, as the sound is the same but the price cheaper, dating from when Naxos was a super-bargain label.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
There are other versions of the Missa papaee Marcelli available and the old Tallis Scholars version is a favourite. This is however a very good version and I like the acoustic of Dorchester Abbey where it was recorded. The singing of the Oxford Camerata and the direction of Jeremy Summerly are both excellent.
Beautiful music beautifully sung and it's cheap. Need I say more?