Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International
December 2019

The richly expressive but compact vocal ensemble Cinquecento has augmented its usual five voices to eight in this wonderful recording of Lamentations by Palestrina. With recordings such as the Richafort Requiem and Regnart Missa Super Oeniades Nymphae to their name, collectors will know something of what to expect, and newcomers are in for a real treat.

The Lamentations recorded here would have been composed for Holy Week, the days that commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These austere celebrations, associated with nocturnal ceremonies, are reflected in the sombre nature of this music, the source of which being a Codex that was brought to light in the 19th century. Bruno Turner sums up these works eloquently at the end of his booklet note for this release: ‘this great composer stands for an ars perfecta, one fully recognised in his own time and ever since for its incomparable technique, its equipoise of lines and harmony, and its incomparable appropriateness to the Latin texts of the Roman liturgy.’

Such perfection demands the same in performance, and Cinquecento has the right sound to project this image. These all-male voices are both superbly blended and highly expressive in the lines that project and recede from Palestrina’s counterpoint. This is almost entirely vibrato-free singing, but the collective and solo sonorities are always evolving and involving in fascinating ways—restrained with the correct ecclesiastical atmosphere, but transcending ritual to create a universal and beautiful musical experience.

Alternative recordings for the complete second book of Palestrina’s Lamentations have proven elusive, and the tracks I have found are as often as not from discs that have been around for a while and may be hard to find. The pioneering Bruno Turner and Pro Cantione Antiqua now on various labels shows what Palestrina can sound like with voices allowed their full vibrato, and Westminster Cathedral Choir provides the more generalised multi-voice view or larger vocal forces.

What Cinquecento gives us is the best of worlds, giving Palestrina’s melodic lines and harmonies great clarity, not adding complexity but communicating the words and music with an elegance of phrasing and a feel for the dynamic flow of the music that is entirely natural. The recording is set in a nice spacious acoustic, but the voices are not too distant. Latin texts are printed in the booklet with German and English translations alongside. This is the kind of recording that provides a total-immersion listening experience. Don’t expect the extremes of Gesualdo or even Monteverdi in this music, but allow it to enter your spiritual being and you will emerge on the other side renewed and with life’s little problems firmly put in perspective.