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Hyperion Records

CDH55449 - Palestrina: Missa Dum complerentur & other music for Whitsuntide
Jesus appears to the disciples together under one roof.
Biblioteca Reale, Turin. Codex de Predis, Italian, 15th century, folio 137r / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDH55449
(Originally issued on CDA67353)

Recording details: March 2002
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2013
DISCID: BB10AB0D
Total duration: 71 minutes 1 seconds

'The renowned choir are on top form as they respond to Palestrina's majesty … highly recommended' (Gramophone)

'This is a thoughtful, carefully analysed performance—Baker and the Westminster choir communicate a clear sense of the structural logic … the singers are excellent … virtually flawless … shut your eyes and you can almost smell the incense. Very warmly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Purposeful performances by a choir for whom this music is a staple diet, and whose slightly edgy, 'continental' treble sound is ideally suited to it' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Here [Martin Baker] reinforces his reputation and that of the choir in energetic accounts of music by Palestrina celebrating Pentecost' (The Guardian)

'Palestrina's mellifluous counterpoint resonates like whipped cream in the cathedral acoustics, yet the clarity and sensitivity of texture is exemplary … delicious' (The Scotsman)

'These performances are as near peerless as is possible in an imperfect world. An essential addition to any Palestrina collection. Magnificent music, magnificently recorded' (Goldberg)

Missa Dum complerentur & other music for Whitsuntide
Kyrie  [4'42] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [5'52] LatinEnglish
Credo  [8'49] LatinEnglish

The music of the sixteenth-century composer Palestrina is still today at the heart of many of the Roman Catholic services sung all around the world. The congregation at Westminster Cathedral is particularly fortunate to hear on a regular basis this inspirational music sung by one of the finest choirs in the world, and this album focuses on music for Whitsuntide. (Whit Sunday commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.)

This is glorious music and for it Martin Baker has drawn the best from his glorious choir.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (his name derives from a town not far from Rome) was probably born in 1525 or 1526. After seven years as maestro di cappella at the cathedral of his native town, he went to Rome at the summons of Pope Julius III to become chapelmaster of the Cappella Giulia at St Peter’s. He later became a singer at the Sistine Chapel but was dismissed by Paul IV on account of his unacceptable married status. After other appointments, Palestrina returned to the Julian Chapel in 1571 as chapel­master. He died in 1594.

Though he is still frequently thought of today as the grand master of the polyphonic style, as Christopher Reynolds has pointed out, it is wrong to view him as a conservative: ‘Neither his contemporaries, nor musicians of the following generation, perceived him as such. Agostino Aggazzari went so far as to name Palestrina and the Council of Trent as sources of the seconda prattica (1607), a claim endorsed by Michael Praetorius (1619)’ (see Christopher Reynolds: ‘Rome: a City of Rich Contrast’, Man and Music, volume 2, The Renaissance, London, 1989, pp. 95–96). Palestrina was highly regarded and much published in his own lifetime. His total output comprises a hundred and four certainly attributed Masses, over three hundred and seventy-five motets, sixty-eight offertories, at least sixty-five hymns, thirty-five Magnificats, four (possibly five) sets of Lamentations for Holy Week, and over a hundred and forty madrigals, both secular and spiritual. His publi­cations bear dedications to men of great power: discerning and wealthy patrons of the arts such as Guglielmo Gonzaga, foreign princes and potentates (there are two books of Masses inscribed to Philip II of Spain) and, increasingly in his later years, popes.

This album is built around the theme of Pentecost, for which Palestrina wrote some of his most lyrically exuberant music. The celebrated motet Dum complerentur was pub­lished in the Liber primus motettorum, containing works for five to seven voices, printed at Rome in 1569. It is a vivid pictorial evocation of the ‘rushing wind’ of Pentecost, the sudden outpouring of the Holy Spirit described in the Acts of the Apostles. Palestrina uses the repeated ‘Alleluias’ of the text as a cue for a flowing musical figure precisely suggestive of this, and the exultant abundance of musical ideas during the course of the motet—each phrase has its own distinctive musical motive—similarly reflects the Spirit ‘blowing where it listeth’.

It was upon this motet that Palestrina based his Missa Dum complerentur, which appeared in the 1599 Missarum liber octavus published in Venice. The Mass shows Palestrina’s parody technique at its most brilliant. The motet’s vast array of musical ideas are worked through with a dazzling inven­ti­veness, as the composer expands, contracts and alters accor­ding to the demands of the new text, that of the proper of the Mass.

All five sections begin with a variant of the motet’s opening, but the way in which the rest of the model’s material is treated thereafter varies considerably from section to section. It is in the Gloria that the model’s identity is most clearly audible, though the original order of the phrases is not maintained; it is in many respects the most ‘workmanlike’ of the sections of the Mass, dispatching as it does its considerable quantity of text with efficiency and utter certainty, liberally employing declamatory writing for the purpose. In the Credo, on the other hand, the music of the motet is treated with ever-increasing freedom, extrapolating from the model and developing. Of particular note is the way in which the descending figure that accompanies the word ‘Alleluia’ is kept in reserve and used only at certain significant points, notably the two visions of the Kingdom to come to be found in the text of the Creed, after ‘Et resurrexit’ and at the end, ‘et vitam venturi saeculi’.

The Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, on the other hand, while they also take the music in new directions, show their basis in the motet much more clearly, and attain a luminous majesty in their finely sculpted lines. In the Benedictus, however, the thematic deconstruction achieved by the double imitative point takes us into quite a different realm, revisited in the second Agnus Dei, which brings back the descending music of the ‘Alleluia’ in its final supplications for peace.

In the eight-part motets Spiritus Sanctus and Veni Sancte Spiritus, Palestrina takes the antiphonal writing implicit in Dum complerentur to its logical conclusion, using the two groups in alternation to provide dramatic textural contrasts and achieving magnificent climactic moments by bringing them together again. This is particularly striking in Veni Sancte Spiritus (a setting of the sequence from Pentecost, from the 1575 book of motets), in which one group is composed of higher voices, the other of lower. The strophic imploring of the text is marvellously conveyed by these means. Note, for example, the alternation of the choirs at ‘Consolator optime, Dulcis hospes animae, Dulce refrigerium’, and the massive full climax conveying the ‘perenne gaudium’ of the final line of the text—perfect liturgical theatre. Spiritus Sanctus is a joyful explosion of sound, depicting in the clearest of terms the Holy Spirit ‘filling the whole house’ and ending with a magnificent ‘Alleluia’.

Veni Creator Spiritus is a hymn, from the composer’s 1589 collection (published by Angelo Gardano in Venice), alternating chant with polyphony. The reformed Breviary which appeared in 1568 induced a number of illustrious composers to write cycles of hymns, including Lassus, Victoria and Guerrero. Though the hymns—true liturgical gems—are today a barely known part of Palestrina’s output, there is no good reason why this should continue to be so, as the limpid beauty of this setting well shows. It is scored for four voices, except for the doxology, which is set for five.

Also relatively infrequently heard are the Magnificats, which are similarly alternatim settings. The six-voice Magnificat on the sixth tone is one jewel among the many to be found in Palestrina’s numerous settings of this text. Here the scoring favours the lower voices, giving that richness of sonority which is characteristic of the famous Missa Papae Marcelli, shot through with rays of light from the upper voices. There is palpable joy in the way Palestrina responds to the text: two of the most striking moments in this particular setting are the sublime series of cascades at ‘salutari meo’ and the myste­rious majesty of ‘et sanctum nomen eius’. Both of these remind us that Palestrina was not only a model of liturgical propriety and contrapuntal perfection, but an inspired melodist, able to react with genuine sensitivity to the texts of the Church.

Ivan Moody © 2003

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