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GRAMOPHONE (11/2019)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

The liturgical moment of the Eucharist dominates this new helping of Palestrina (much of it for eight voices): it accounts for most of the motets presented here. They are all beautifully poised; the most pleasing is perhaps Caro mea vere est cibus. But the disc’s centrepiece is once again a Mass, based on another Eucharistic motet, Fratres ego enim accepi. It’s most elegant, and surprising therefore that it hasn’t been recorded more often: given the number of voices involved, it is striking how uncluttered and economical are the results. If my review of the previous instalment a couple of years ago (11/17) read rather diffidently, the quality of the music here is more immediately obvious.

After 10 hours of Palestrina, and as the series appears to draw to a close, it’s possible to wish for more variety of tone. The Sixteen inflect their basic approach with considerable subtlety and skill (try the end of the Gloria and Credo, and especially the hymn Victimae paschali laudes – a surprising exception is towards the end of that hymn, when the switch to triple time is rather overdone). But in the end, their view of this much-revered composer is not as varied as his output demonstrates. Arguably, this is more a matter of programming than of interpretation. In my review of the very first volume I’d hoped that they might explore some of the cycles based on madrigals, for example; and although Harry Christophers’s selection has indeed revealed a few Masses that are heard less often (such as this one), there’s little to force his ensemble out of its comfort zone: most of the Masses in the series are based on his own motets. Whether or not this is a missed opportunity depends on one’s point of view; having said which, this strikes me as one of the best volumes of the series, as much for the performances as for the music.


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