Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Odhecaton - Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli

Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Missa Papae Marcelli
Paolo da Col
Recorded in the parochial Church of San Rocco in Miasino (Novara), Italy, September 13-16, 2009
Release Date: 8th November, 2010

Some of the best Italian male voices, specialists in the performance of Renaissance and Baroque music, sing in Odhecaton under the direction of Paolo Da Col. Since its beginning in 1998, Odhecaton has been the recipient of some of the most prestigious discographic awards: De Passione (Josquin Desprez) was awarded the Diapason d'Or of the Year 2003, while the more recent O gente brunette (Ramée) took the Diapason d'Or of February 2010.

Odhectaton make their debut on Arcana with the Missa Papae Marcelli of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a recording sure to become a point of reference for this sacred masterwork of contrapuntal and formal perfection, exemplifying the important compositional techniques of its time. For the first time in recording history, Odhecaton has recreated as closely as possible a hypothetical performance by the pontifical chapel at the time of Pope Marcellus II. With an ensemble of around twenty singers, Odhecaton comes close to the formation of the pontifical chapel which, between 1510 and 1585, numbered between twenty and thirty-six singers. Odhecaton excludes soprano and treble voices, extraneous to the pontifical chapel in the second half of the sixteenth century, and employs only adult male voices: basses, baritones, tenors and countertenors. Until now the discography of the Missa Papae Marcelli has been dominated by English ensembles and choirs, inclined to emphasise the balanced purity of the vocal lines, the ethereal side of Palestrina. Odhecaton instead highlights the Mediterranean qualities of his vocal style. The performance places the Missa Papae Marcelli in a liturgical context which emphasises its original function, reconstructing a hypothetical liturgy (the Easter Mass) with music as it might have been celebrated at the Sistine Chapel.

Odhecaton performing Salve sancta facies by Juan de Anchieta (1462-1523) at the basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna as part of the Ravenna Festival 2009:

(review by Jean-Christophe Pucek in Passée des Arts):

At the end of last year the ensemble Odhecaton delighted us with an anthology of music by Renaissance composers from Picardy, called O gente brunette (Ramée), justly hailed by the critics. The Italian singers return, on Arcana, with a disc dedicated to one of the most famous works of the 16th century, the Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina.

The extraordinary critical fortune of this composer, always regarded as a model, to the point where, in the 19th century, he was considered the saviour of religious music, permit us to do without too much biographical digression. Giovanni Pierluigi, born in 1525 or 1526 into a poor family in Palestrina, entered the service of the papacy in 1550, when Cardinal Giovanni Maria de'Ciocchi del Monte, bishop of Palestrina, was elected pope as Julius III, and called on him to direct the choir of the Giulia Chapel at St Peter's in Rome. In 1554 the composer dedicated his Missarum Liber Primus (first book of masses) to his protector, on the strength of which he was immediately admitted as a chorister to the pontifical choir. But Julius III died the following year and his successor Marcellus II, to whom the Missa Papae Marcelli is dedicated, only occupied the seat of St Peter for twenty days, and was succeeeded by Paul IV, one of whose first decisions was to exclude married men from his chapel choir. Palestrina was therefore obliged to rapidly find a new position. He first became maestro di cappella at St John Lateran, before occupying the same position at Santa Maria Maggiore in 1561, then, in 1571, at the Cappella Giulia, a position that he held until his death on 2nd February 1594, at a time when he was famous throughout Europe.

Odhecaton perform part of the Agnus Dei from the Missa Papae Marcelli during the recording sessions at San Rocco in Miasino, Orta San Giulio

The Missa Papae Marcelli forms part of the Missarum Liber Secundus, published in Rome in 1567, but its exact date of composition is unclear. The most probable hypothesis dates it to the early 1560's, 1565 at the latest, the date when it was copied into Codex 22 of the Sistine Chapel. The work fits perfectly with the spirit of the time, the requirements of structural clarity and the intelligibility of the sung text stipulated by the Counter-Reformation, against the opulence and luxury represented by the use of sometimes risqué secular songs as cantus firmus in Franco-Flemish polyphony. It is nevertheless difficult to determine accurately whether Palestrina complied with principles which were in the course of being developed at the time he wrote this mass, and on which it seems that Marcellus II, despite the brevity of his pontificate, could have exerted some influence, or whether it was precisely this mass which played an important, if not decisive, role in creating a new aesthetic in sacred music. I wager, for my part, that there was probably a fairly close interaction between the emergence, at the same point in time, of the need to profoundly rethink the liturgy, and of a composer whose perfect knowledge of polyphonic technique, combined with a taste for structures of almost impersonal purity, as well as a strong desire to advance himself, made him the ideal person to embody this new style. Thus, in constructing his Missa Papae Marcelli, Palestrina does not make use of a cantus firmus but makes extensive use of homophony; nevertheless he also manages to preserve all the density and complexity of the music by making dialogues between voices or vocal groups a key element of the dynamic of his musical discourse, in a process of interiorisation of the polyphony, which permits it to operate without compromising the surface comprehensibility. A procedure which somehow safeguards the Franco-Flemish heritage by hiding it behind an ornamentation in conformity with the spirit of the age.

Loyset Compère (1440-1518) - Missa Galeazescha performed by Odhecaton:

To do justice to this important score, Paolo Da Col has gathered under the banner of Odhecaton a large body of 19 male singers (6 countertenors, 6 tenors, 2 baritones, 5 basses), and asked them to sing in full voice, in accordance with the practice of the time. The result is spectacularly sculptural, the opposite of the angelic, even disembodied, interpretations which a certain tradition has accustomed us to, the music thus acquiring an undeniable vitality and physical impact. The tutti passages have an imposing solemnity without being overwhelming, as the particular care given to articulation and the fluidity of the parts prevents any smudging. The spatial effects are remarkably successful; the responses and echoes pertinently emphasise the elaborate architecture of a work whose clarity may make it appear simple on first hearing, but with attentive listening reveals the extreme attention paid to its design. In addition, Paolo Da Col varies his forces with sensibility and subtlety according to the composer's requirements, handling the more intimate passages with solo voices, emphasising the meditative (but not ethereal) character of his vision, even in the more monumental passages. Considered individually, one may have some reservations about the singers, but one of the numerous strengths of this recording lies in its ability to make a virtue of these inequalities, succeeding in making of them a coherent whole of great vocal fluidity without smoothing out the rough edges. The voices thus retain their own grain and colours, infusing the music with much warmth and dynamism. The decision to present the different parts of the Missa Papae Marcelli within the context of a hypothetical liturgical office for Easter may give rise to reservations, but the intelligence of the programme and the interesting choice of pieces very quickly dispel these.

This CD impresses therefore as a perfectly conceived selection, both aesthetically and emotionally; a resounding and quite dazzling success which opens exciting perspectives for the interpretation of the Roman repertoire of the late sixteenth century. In my view this benchmark recording of the Missa Papae Marcelli signals a new approach to the Palestrina repertoire and confirms Odhecaton as currently one of the most audacious ensembles in its conception of Renaissance music. I heartily recommend you immerse yourselves in this record where light and sensuality combine to reveal a hitherto unknown side of Palestrina, the man rather than the myth.

(translation: A Curran)

Missa Papae Marcelli download links
O gente brunette download links

1 comment:

  1. what? Juan de Anchieta performing Salve sancta facies? this is very old..
    thanks for preserving
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