This Hyperion release from David Hill and Yale Schola Cantorum brings a very welcome opportunity to hear a Mass which has only been recorded once before. Palestrina’s Missa Confitebor tibi Domine (1572) is a real find, a glorious work and, in terms of soaring lines and gratifying polyphony, compares favourably with his much-loved Missa Papa Marcelli.
The Connecticut students make an impressive sound, and their warmth, blend and security of ensemble ensure that Palestrina’s lines unfold seamlessly. If you were not aware this is an American choir you might mistake its tone (and scrupulously prepared vowels) as belonging to an Oxbridge college.
This stylish, immersed-in, performance is characterised by David Hill’s directness, underpinned by forward momentum. This can be intensely exciting as in the opening verses of the ‘Gloria’ where one is swept along, yet the music is not driven so hard as to lose sight of the stunning cadence on “Filius Patris”. The ‘Sanctus’ unfolds with a spaciousness and solemnity that is tailor-made, and particularly effective is the shaping of the ‘Benedictus’, its invocations unfolding with magnificent control. The ‘Agnus Dei’ is very special in its rapt stillness and with an otherworldliness that reaches deep inside the heart of the text, the singers standing beside the Pearly Gates.
Occasionally there are minor flaws such as the first bars of the opening motet where an overly-keen voice mars an entry, and some variety of tempo might be preferred in the closing ‘Magnificat primi toni’, but these are quibbles in what is a first-class recording, making the very best of a reverberant acoustic, and the booklet includes texts and translations.
Interspersed between the Mass movements are interludes for cornett and organ – conceived, like the choral music, for performance at St Peter’s, Rome. Their inclusion is an imaginative stroke which makes rewarding listening not least because of fabulous playing.