Harry Christophers, the conductor of The Sixteen, has said that with the group’s large series of Palestrina recordings he hoped to add ebb and flow to the music and to get away from academic approaches. The biggest innovation of Christophers’ series, however, lies not in the vocal technique but in the repertory. For all Palestrina’s fame, it’s generally the same set of pieces of his that get recorded.
The music on this recording is linked by its Easter theme, but anyone who has thought of Palestrina’s works as sounding all the same will be pleasantly surprised by motets like Terra tremuit (The Earth Trembles). The opening Stabat Mater reflects the highly emotional nature of that text more than one would usually expect from Palestrina, and the music passes through motets on various subjects and settings of three texts from the Song of Songs before returning to the more formal language with which Palestrina is usually associated.