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Recordings

Allegri/Palestrina
28 Sep 2007

Allegri “Miserere”; Palestrina “Missa Papae Marcelli”

This is a recording that glories in iconicity.

Gregorio Allegri: Miserere (2 versions); Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Stabat Mater; Missa Papae Marcelli

The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (dir.)

Gimell CDGIM 041 [CD]

$18.49  Click to buy

Few composers are more iconic of time and place than Palestrina, assuredly evoking both Counter-Reformation Rome as well as the ideals of late-sixteenth counterpoint. Similarly, few works will be more iconic of Rome than the “Pope Marcellus Mass” with its strong ties to the Council of Trent, the “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri, a work closely guarded as a possession of the Sistine Chapel, and the motet (also recorded here) “Tu es Petrus,” the foundational Gospel text for the authority of the papacy. To these icons, we might also add the sense that the Tallis Scholars, now approaching their thirty-fifth year, have also become iconic of the highest levels of modern performance of Renaissance polyphony. And despite their eponymous affinity for the music of Tallis, the Allegri “Miserere” and the “Pope Marcellus Mass” have surely become signature works for the ensemble. So much so that one might wonder why another recording of these works.

Both of these works are well represented in recordings by the Tallis Scholars at various stages in the life of the group. A 1980 recording of both works (released on CD as CDGIM 339) was followed by the 1994 “Live in Rome” recording (CDGIM 994), a concert recording made in the Sistine Chapel to celebrate the restoration of the Michelangelo frescoes. Additionally “The Tallis Scholars Sing Palestrina,” a 2005 release (CDGIM 204), re-issues the “Pope Marcellus Mass.” Director Peter Phillips observes that the Tallis Scholars have sung the “Miserere” over 300 times; no doubt the numbers for the Mass are high, as well. So why another recording of these signature pieces?

In part, the answer may lie in the continual development of the group’s thinking about the pieces. For instance, the “Miserere” here now alternates with a different psalm tone than the traditional second tone, and the last of the two versions on the recording incorporates the exquisite ornamentation of soprano Deborah Roberts, developed over long experience performing the work. (The ornamentation is notated in the liner notes, giving it a fixity somewhat at odds with its nature, but heightening its presence in the production in a concrete way.) And, it must be said, the recording shows the group at the very top of their game. The sound is ravishing, highly focused and full of presence, but at the same time wonderfully lustrous. The singers’ long familiarity with the works has not dimmed the conviction or dynamism of the performances; instead, we hear renditions of remarkable fluency.

A quibble here or there? One wonders at the use of a solo voice to render the psalm tone verses in the Allegri, as psalmodic chanting in this style was traditionally the preserve of the choir. And occasionally one might wish for more variety of volume—much is sung rather full, to the point where fullness itself loses some of its impact. But these quibbles fall by the wayside when one savors the glory of the sound. Do we need another recording of these pieces by the Tallis Scholars? Perhaps not, but this is one that I suspect all will be delighted to have on their shelf—right next to the others!

Steven Plank

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