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Christophorus CHR 77288 [SACD]
28 Dec 2011

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina e la Compagnia dei Musici di Roma, Messa di Santa Cecilia

Homage could take diverse forms in Counter-Reformation Rome, and this excellent recording by ensemble officium, Messa di Santa Cecilia, focuses on a particular instance that was interestingly polyvalent.

ensemble officium; Wilfried Rombach, Director

Christophorus CHR 77288 [SACD]

$24.99  Click to buy

In part, the centerpiece—a “Missa Cantantibus organis”—pays homage to St. Cecilia, both in her liturgical rank and as patroness of music. But as a parody mass—a reworking of material from Palestrina’s responsory motet, “Cantantibus organis”—the mass also becomes a salute both to Palestrina’s musical rank and the cultivation of church music in Rome. Making these gestures of homage all the more compelling is that the mass itself is a collective enterprise, written jointly by seven composers (including Palestrina himself) from the confraternity “Compagnia dei Musici di Roma.” And while these composers, who include Annabile Stabile, Francesco Soriano, Giovanni Andrea Dragoni, Prospero Santini Ruggiero Giovannelli, and Curcio Mancini, have not risen to the modern fame of Palestrina, they collectively represent the wealth of the Roman musical establishment towards the close of the sixteenth century. Rounding out the program are motets from Palestrina’s “Song of Songs” and an unusually through-composed Magnificat.

Unsurprisingly, the Mass with so many hands involved shows a variety of textures and styles, ranging from four to twelve voice parts deployed in both imitative counterpoint, homophonic writing, and antiphonal dialogues. Much is given to twelve-voice splendor; it is interesting, however, that the grand-scale of the texture somewhat ironically suggests an economy of pace, moving through the text without lengthy development—rich but not expansive. And though the construction of the Mass is varied, the stylistic idioms are so well established that shifts from composer to composer, or texture to texture, create no jarring effect.

Ensemble officium brings to this repertory a well-seasoned fluency. The choral sound has a degree of heft to it, but in Wilfried Rombach’s hands, it emerges as focused and clear, nicely attuned to the chant-like fluidity of lines, but also to chordal richness. The result is a very satisfying performance of Roman repertory from its most golden age.

Steven Plank

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