Monday, 7 September 2015
Palestrina - Masses - Vartolo
Not the best Palestrina recordings
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 and The Tallis Scholars Sing Palestrina, which gives you four wonderful masses in outstanding performance.