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Palestrina: Prince of Music - Missa Papae Marcelli; Motets & Offertories

4.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 25, 1999
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Palestrina: Prince of Music - Missa Papae Marcelli; Motets & Offertories
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  • Beyond Chant: Mysteries Of The Renaissance
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  • Voices Of Ascension: From Chant To Renaissance
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Editorial Reviews

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Voices of Ascension's Palestrina disc is something of a "greatest hits" collection: a dozen of the prolific composer's best-known motets--including several, such as Super flumina Babilonis, Tu es Petrus, and Sicut cervus, that many listeners will have sung in church or college choirs--and the legendary "Pope Marcellus" Mass. Yet the performance is not the slowly flowing honey usually served up by, say, the Tallis Scholars (as good as that is). Particularly in the Gloria and Credo of the Mass, Dennis Keene deliberately de-emphasizes the rise and fall of the different voices' lines in favor of a more naturally speech-like declamation of the long Latin texts. This means a surprisingly fast tempo--and some rhythmic spring and syncopation one might not expect in Palestrina. Some (not all) of the motets get a similar treatment: it works well in joyous pieces like the Pentecost motet Dum complerentur, but listeners might miss that melodic rise and fall in some of the slower works. The singers of Voices of Ascension are quite skillful, and the slight edge in their tone helps make the different melodies unusually audible. Very worthwhile, but not your father's Palestrina. --Matthew Westphal
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Product Details

  • Performer: Voices of Ascension
  • Conductor: Dennis Keene
  • Composer: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
  • Audio CD (May 25, 1999)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Delos
  • ASIN: B00000J86H
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,565 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

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Format: Audio CD
Folks, I'm a long-time fan of the Ascension Choir, but Palestrina has always been at the top of my list of "Most Overrated Composers of All Time" (along with the 20th-Century's greatest ..., Igor Stravinsky) - until I broke down & bought Dennis Keene's exquisitely prepared "Prince of Music" CD. By restoring the pulse to the music and banishing that ponderous, thick choral sound traditionally associated with it, Keene brings Palestrina's art to life again and makes it sound completely NEW. It's like seeing rays of light suddenly streaming through an old stained-glass window. It's enough to restore one's faith, in the power of art, if nothing else. The choral sound is gorgeously balanced, strangely light and varied, always moving forward, a truly mystical euphony. I'm not an habitual writer of fan letters, but after several weeks of living with these performances, I just had to write this review. Mr. Keene, if by some chance you're reading this, thanks for a rare and wonderful pleasure: true musical grace captured on CD, there whenever my heart & mind long for it...
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This is another great performance by Voices of Ascension, conducted by Dennis Keene. It has to be difficult to give a fresh interpretation to the MISSA PAPAE MARCELLI, a famous work that had been recorded many times, with excellent results. Dennis Keene chooses to use faster tempi, giving a different approach from the traditional solemnity that is typical in the interpretation of this repertoire. This change in tempo works very well, especially in the Gloria and Credo. The album also has other motets and offertories from Palestrina. TU ES PETRUS, DUM COMPLEMENTUR and CANITE TUBA are particularly notable, they sound positively joyful and exultant. The voices has a fresh and integrated sound. And it is a pleasure to have three bonus tracks from previous CDs, specially ALMA REDEMPTORIS MATER that is performed with great tenderness. It is obvious that they love the piece very much. The Renaissance repertoire fits the group like a glove. The performances of Voices of Ascension combine technical virtousity with deep interiority.
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The music itself is truly awsome and the lyrics are soo deep. It's not just absolutely great to listen to, but a real trip to meditate on the meaning of the songs. Palestrina had a real reverence for God and his music just creates a sense of awe. Palestrina was a genius at creating varied vocal parts that are each interesting and beautiful to listen to. The different parts (bases, tenors, altos, and sopranos) have their own little melody and each part has its glory moment. Finaly when Palestrina wants to make and important statement he puts the parts into usison to spell out the most musically satisfying chords I've ever heard. And the voices themselves....ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! They are absolutely beautiful! Denis Keene is an amazing director; he never lets the beautiful chanting drag to much so that it keeps moving. However, on the slow meditative songs, Keene takes his time and lets the beauty of the voices create this mood of solemnity. Let me give you a sample of the lyrics of track #14. In Latin: "Peccantem me quotidie et non me poenitentem, timor mortis conturbat me, quia in inferno nulla est redemptio. Miserere mei Deus, et salva me." Which translates to: "I have been sinning every day, without repentence. [And Now] the fear of death torments me, because in the underworld there is no redemption. Have mercy on me, Lord, and save me." This music is some of the most powerful music that I have heard as a Christian and really inspires me.
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At the risk of appearing churlish amid the various heapings of unconditional praise (much of it deserved): I'm not a fan of this style. Ensembles do a lot of "NEW" things to old music in order to differentiate themselves, and not all of it represents an improvement. Palestrina without the long ebb and flow of arching phrases is something like a Gothic cathedral without columns or flying buttresses.

Granted, Keene's group offers a refreshingly different tonal palette to the Tallis Scholars (who had more or less "flooded the zone" with their distinctive top-heavy sound at the time of this recording's release), and their intonation and ensemble are faultless. I did find refuge in some of the quieter moments that featured more conventional phrasing (Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Super flumina, Alma redemptoris e.g.). But elsewhere the lively diction and fast pacing fail to compensate for what is ultimately a plodding, note-by-note approach--one that elevates even the least important syllable above the soaring melismatic lines and taffy-pull suspensions that are the mainstay of Palestrina's timeless appeal.
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Beautifully sung CD with amazing selections. Palestrina was the real master of medieval/renaissance counterpoint and everyone else who came after him tried their best to imitate him. The way he writes for voices is surreal...you will see why he is known as The Prince of Music.
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