Allegri Lotti and Palestrina Miserere Mass Coro

Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2003 and the recording is still available.

Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652)
Miserere Mei (1638?)
Antonio Lotti (1667-1740)
Crucifixus (1730?)
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)
Stabat Mater (1589?)
Missa Papae Marcelli (1555?)
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
rec. 1989, St. Jude’s Church, London
Coro COR16014 [56]

Along with quite a few other discs from the Collins Classics catalogue of the 1980s, this excellent disc makes a welcome return to circulation at mid-price. It is not particularly generous in terms of playing time and comes up against pretty stiff competition in all the pieces. But from the opening bars of Lotti’s glorious Crucifixus, it is evident that this is a choir and conductor who know their business. The Sixteen’s work has now become fairly well known and widely appreciated, but this disc did a lot to consolidate their reputation in sacred choral music of the Renaissance and beyond.

In the two most famous works on the disc, Allegri’s Miserere and the Palestrina Mass, I found comparison with The Tallis Scholars (Gimell), a long time favourite of mine, to be quite illuminating. As a generalisation one might say that what The Sixteen’s performance lacks in awe or mystery is more than made up for in sheer ecstasy and fervour. Those famous tumbling high Cs in the Allegri are piercing in their exaltation, where in the Tallis Scholars performance they float out of the stratosphere as if from God Himself. Both approaches are valid, in fact complementary, and The Sixteen’s tonal splendour and vocal blend are a joy throughout. The harmonic richness of the Palestrina Mass is fully conveyed, and where Peter Philips may be more spacious and allow the polyphonic lines to overlap completely naturally, Christophers’ slightly brisker tempo does have its own rewards. The Sanctus, for example, has a full-throated passion and intensity that is exhilarating, and Palestrina’s forward-looking harmonic probing is brought fully into the open.

Lotti’s tiny Crucifixus, which moved Dr.Burney to tears in 1770, conveys a whole world of suffering in its 3-minute span and is a gem of the choral repertoire. Once again The Sixteen get a move on, the forward impulse and lack of dawdling or indulgence helping to heighten the intensity and atmosphere. Lotti had learned much from studying the polyphonic mastery of Palestrina, and the latter’s gorgeous Stabat Mater also gets a rendition of great intelligence and variety.

The whole programme is a delight, helped enormously by the richly reverberant acoustic, warm and spacious without any clouding of detail. The engineers do them proud, and Ivan Moody’s brief but scholarly note is very helpful. Recommended.

Tony Haywood

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music