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Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525/26 - 1594): "Cantica Salomonis"

Palestrina Ensemble München
Dir: Venanz Schubert

rec: May 29 - 30 2005 & June 8 - 10, 2012, Munich, Königliche Frauenklinik (chapel)
Naxos - 8.573096-97 (2 CDs) (© 2013) (2.07'26")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list
Scores Palestrina, Motettorum liber quartus

Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA: Adiuro vos a 5 [2]; Afferentur regi a 5 [3]; Caput eius aurum optimum a 5 [2]; Descendi in hortum nucum a 5 [2]; Dilectus meo mihi a 5 [2]; Dilectus meus descendit a 5 [2]; Duo ubera tua a 5 [2]; Ecce tu pulcher est a 5 [2]; Fasciculus myrrhae a 5 [2]; Guttur tuum a 5 [2]; Introduxit me rex a 5 [2]; Laeva eius sub capite meo a 5 [2]; Osculetur me a 5 [2]; Pulchra es, amica mea a 5 [2]; Pulchrae sunt genae tuae a 5 [2]; Quae est ista, quae progeditur a 5 [2]; Quam pulchra es et quam decora a 5 [2]; Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui a 5 [1]; Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui a 5 [2]; Si ignoras te a 5 [2]; Sicut lilium inter spinas a 5 [2]; Surgam et circuibo civitatem a 5 [2]; Surge, amica mea a 5 [2]; Surge, propera, amica mea a 5 [2]; Tota pulchra es a 5 [2]; Trahe me, post te a 5 [2]; Veni, veni, dilecte mi a 5 [2]; Vineam meam non custodivi a 5 [2]; Vox dilecti mei a 5 [2]; Vulnerasti cor meum a 5 [2]
plainchant: Adducentur regi virgines post eam; Argentum et aurum non est mihi; Audi filia et vide; Dilectus meus candidus et rubicundus; Dilectus meus loquitur mihi; Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi; Dum esset rex in accubito suo; Ego dilecto meo, et ad me conversio ejus; Ego dilecto meo, et dilectus meus mihi; Fasciculus myrrhae; Fulcite me floribus; In odorem; Ista est columba mea; Ista est speciosa inter filias Jerusalem; Jam hiems transiit; Laeva ejus; Malos male perdet, et vineam suam; Nigra sum; Nolite me considerare; Oleum effusum; Pulchra es et decora; Quae est ista, quae ascendit sicut aurora; Quae est ista speciosa sicut columba; Quam pulchra es, amica mea; Qui dabiit dilectus tuus; Quis est iste, qui venit de Edom; Quo abiit dilectus tuus - Quo declinavit dilectus tuus; Quo abiit dilectus tuus - Quo dilectus tuus declinavit; Sicut lilium; Tota pulchra es Maria; Trahe me post te; Veni de Libano, sponsa mea

[1] Liber primus motettorum, 1569; [2] Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum, 1584; [3] Offertoria totius anni secundum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae consuetudinem, 1593

In the course of history the texts from the Song of Songs - one of the books from the Old Testament - exerted a great attraction on composers. One reason for this is the expressive language with which the love of a young man and a young woman is described. Another - and probably more important - is the allegorical interpretation of these texts. The young man represented Christ, the young woman the Church, or - especially in mystic circles - the soul of the believer. When the veneration of the Virgin Mary developed she took the role of the young woman. The fact that a number of texts entered the liturgy in the form of antiphons indicates that the Church embraced the allegorical interpretation and considered the texts useful to strengthen the faith of the people. However, one cannot overlook a kind of dichotomy in the Church's attitude: various people who translated these texts into the vernacular came into conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities.

Palestrina was one of the composers to set texts from the Song of Songs. His settings were published in 1584 as his fourth book of motets. The first edition's title doesn't refer in any way to the origin of the texts. The popularity of such compositions is reflected by the fact that this book was reprinted several times; later editions are more explicit about their character. In the present recording every motet is preceded by an antiphon, sometimes on the same text, in other cases on a text which is close to the motet in content. This could give the impression that the motets are considered to be written for liturgical use. That is not the case, and the liner-notes mention this fact, although that could have been made more explicit. The antiphons are probably included as a kind of 'liturgical counterpart' to the motets, just to show that texts from the Song of Songs were not banned from the liturgy.

Unfortunately the performers seem not to have realized the consequences of the fact that these motets were written for domestic use or for performance during gatherings of confraternities, closely associated to the Oratorian movement of St Philip Neri. The choir comprises 15 singers. This is not only questionable from a historical point of view, it also results in a largely unsatisfactory interpretation. A vocal ensemble of this size is at odds with the intimate character of the texts and Palestrina's music. These settings are certainly not the most sensitive; some of Palestrina's colleagues probably had more feeling for the specific character of these texts. However, other recordings - for instance that by Pro Cantione Antiqua (Hyperion, 1984) - show that more can be made of these pieces. The interpretation of the Palestrina Ensemble Munich is rather uniform and shows too little differentiation. The transparency of the choir leaves something to be desired as well, and the texts are not always easy to understand.

There is more: intonation is often suspect, and the singing sometimes sounds awkward, lacking the fluency required by the stile antico. The balance between the various voice groups is not always satisfying. The German pronunciation of Latin is very odd; I can't see any reason for it, and I suspect that the conductor just hasn't given this issue any thought.

The ensemble was founded in 1994 and comprises music students from the south of Germany. Without a doubt this makes for a wonderful opportunity for them to sing together and to perform music from especially the 16th and 17th centuries. It is easy to understand that the participants would like to have some memories in sound of their performances. However, the quality of these performances doesn't justify a commercial release. In its early years Naxos released various discs with early music which were of rather suspect quality. In recent years I have heard many which I greatly enjoyed and rated highly, also in my reviews on this site. Recordings like this damage the label's improved reputation as a serious label in the realm of early music.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Palestrina Ensemble München

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