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Palestrina was ticked off by Pope Gregory XIII for writing madrigals and he renounced the setting of profane texts in the preface to his Canticum Canticorum – was this a joke? He certainly went back to writing madrigals afterwards! This leaves performers with a challenge: the polyphony is smoothly, deceptively innocent on the page, yet the texts are ostensibly carnal. Polish vocal consort Il Canto have absolutely the right idea, performing 14 of them as madrigals, up-tempo and forthright, with admirable artistic ambitions which are, alas, undone by poor tuning and technical inadequacies.

Monteverdi’s Messa a Quattro Voci fares little better. at the other extreme, the aptly named chamber choir, Palestrina Ensemble Munich, offers the entire set on two CDs in Cantica Salomonis, a high-minded effort interleaving the motets with Gregorian antiphons in frozen, bloodless performances.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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