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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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DG 4795300

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Reviewer: Edward Breen


The Sistine Chapel Choir celebrate their musical heritage through a selection of Renaissance sacred music recorded inside the Sistine Chapel. Their programme includes works by Palestrina, and Allegri’s Miserere as preserved in the Sistine Codex of 1661. It is a beautifully recorded disc, as much a celebration of the building as of the music or the voices. They are a large ensemble, 30 ragazzi and 20 men with high tenors replacing falsettist-altos, and their performances favour low pitch, resulting in a richer timbre than English counterparts. At times they are reminiscent of Westminster Cathedral Choir under George Malcolm, but the trebles are more rounded.


The director, Monsignor Massimo Palombella, takes a unique approach to polyphony driven partly by the acoustic, which demands slower tempi than smaller professional ensembles favour, and partly through a quest for ‘aesthetic relevance’. Interpretatively, this frequently results in the opposite approach to prevailing norms: phrases bulge expressively, surge to their apex and then slink down the other side, there are occasional abbellimenti and a ‘dynamic’ tactus that promotes tempo changes between sections. Such style traits seem to be driven from the top down, with detail often lost among lower voices. Ultimately, it sounds like the shifting affects of Baroque style rather than the graceful architecture of the Renaissance, but it works. Occasionally there are baffling consequences, such as at the accelerando in Palestrina’s Super flumina Babylonis on ‘dum recordaremur tui, Sion’, but at other times it leads to extreme poignancy, such as the opening of Anerio’s Christus factus est pro nobis. Mannered singing may be out of favour among many professional ensembles but here it is executed with such conviction that it creates one of the most expressive and atmospheric recordings of this repertoire in recent years.


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