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Missa De Beata Virgine I

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 26, 2000
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 26, 2000)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • Run Time: 56 minutes
  • ASIN: B00004VXDN
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,007 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George Peabody VINE VOICE on August 14, 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
THE CHURCH: A PERMANENT BACKDROP FOR PALESTRINA'S LIFE!

From age eleven as a choirboy at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, to Choirmaster in Palestrina (his home town) to the Sistine Chapel, Palestrina was always associated with a house of God. It would follow then that in the dedication of his First Book of Motets in 1563, he wrote: "The function of music in the church is the seasoning of devotion by the added delight of sweetness of song and variety of harmony. The sharper blame therefore do those deserve who misemploy so great and splendid a gift of God in unworthy things, and thereby excite men, who themselves are inclined to all evil..." In all the long list of masses, madrigals and motets, there is no one that is cheap and unworthy. Purity and clarity, comparative brevity and simplicity, polyphony used with judicious reserve, the banishing of secular elements from his music - these are the qualities that won him the title Princeps Musicae (Prince of Music), which is engraved on his tombstone.

The purity and mastery of Palestina's polyphony made his music, especially the Masses, a model of all that was perfect in late Renaissance style, aptly demonstrated in this beautiful 'Missa de Beata Virgine I'. Sergio Vartolo, the director of Cappella Musicale, has sought to place the Mass within the liturgical sequence recalling early performance tradition. Thus it opens with the plainchant introit 'Gaudeamus' (intended to be a major feast of the Virgin Mary), and after the 'Gloria' comes a 'Graduale' and an organ paraphrase of the hymn 'Ave maris stella' (Girolamo Cavazzoni) very well played by Vartolo, himself.
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Format: Audio CD
As someone who has no musical education and who has not sampled different versions of this mass, I can only offer a wholly subjective opinion. The notes included offer a proper preparation for someone unfamiliar with Palestrina and made listening more rewarding. The recording attempts to be historically accurate, including only male voices. The combination of different musical styles incorporated by Palestrina make for a truly subime listening experience.
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Both the Palestrina discs recorded by Vartolo and his ensemble in the mid 1990s are quite decent interpretations in many ways, but for me they lack the real depth and musicality needed to really make Palestrina's music shine.

The music itself is lovely, of course. Palestrina was one of the great masters of polyphony and these works are some of his finest. These recordings do have their merits and some very beautiful moments, I think. Technically the singers are very good, with generally excellent intonation and thoughtful phrasing. The countertenor taking the top lines means a lower, more Flemish pitch which lends a lovely resonance to the sound, helped by some fine, firm basses. However, I find the very resonant acoustic muddies the sound rather too much sometimes, balance of the voices is variable so that the polyphonic lines don't always interact as they should, and a little too much vibrato on occasions interferes with the clarity of the harmonies. Palestrina does need genuine engagement with the text being sung to give it the depth and variation to maintain interest over a whole disc, and I don't really find that here so the whole thing begins to sound pleasant but a bit samey at times.

This isn't a bad recording by any means and I don't want to be too critical, but for me it doesn't quite succeed in bringing Palestrina's lovely music to life. There are some quiet superb Palestrina recordings available now at very reasonable prices and I would recommend them well before this. Two fine examples are:
Phillippe Herreweghe's wonderful recording of Missa Viri Galilaei:
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
It has drama and passion. Sergio Vartolo conducts the choir with a sure sense of polyphonic structure; each voice expresses its rhetorical phrase with its own rhythmic logic, so that there's never a big fat moment of pseudo-sublime rumble-grumble, the curse of choir recordings. It's ten times better in every way than the Westminster Choir recordings. It's not as "polished" as the Tallis Scholars, but it's way more exciting. A few rough spots don't compromise the overall effect.

The performance is shaped as a full liturgical mass, with plainchant of the propers by a countertenor, in the florid manner of the semi-independent diocese of Bologna in the 16th C, and with an organ interlude.

And check out the price!

Addendum, several days later: This is one of those CDs that doesn't sound better on high-quality sound systems, as I discovered when I came home to my own and played it. There's enough distortion around the upper voices to diminish my listening pleasure except perhaps on headphones. Sorry about that!
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Format: Audio CD
This music is something else. It's like being in heaven or something like that. I was already familiar with the music of Palestrina but this...blowed my mind away. All the voices join in perfect harmony. If you like sacred choral music, then this is, buy it, besides, the price is ridiculus.
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