Magazine article Gramophone

Palestrina: Canticum Canticorum, 'Song of Songs'

Magazine article Gramophone

Palestrina: Canticum Canticorum, 'Song of Songs'

Article excerpt

Palestrina

Canticum canticorum, 'Song of Songs'. Afferentur Regi virgines post earn. Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui

Palestrina Ensemble Munich / Venanz Schubert

Naxos (S) (2) 8 573096/7 (127' * DDD)

Song of Songs from a student vocal ensemble in Munich

Palestrina's 29 settings from the Song of Songs, though published as a collection of motets, are better described as sacred madrigals, being written in a somewhat freer style. Justly admired, they have been recorded several times, not least by the Hilliard Ensemble for EMI and more recently by Pro Cantione Antiqua for Hyperion. On this recording, each motet is preceded by a plainchant antiphon. I'm not sure of the logic of this, since (the passing mention in the booklet-notes notwithstanding) collections of this sort were by no means exclusively intended for liturgical use; besides, it halts the continuity of the polyphony.

The Palestrina Ensemble Munich is larger than either of the two just named, midway between a chamber ensemble and a choir, but sounding at times nearer an amateur group than a strictly professional one. That's to say that vocal quality, intonation and line are uneven (especially among the male voices), and the finer points of Palestrina's style don't elicit the subtlety of response that one expects: the changes of texture or idiom that distinguish the cycle from the composer's motet style are either overdone or undercooked. …

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