It is music as Palestrina might have heard it; as Palestrina might have meant it to be heard.
Cantate Domino, the new recording by the Sistine Chapel Choir – the oldest ongoing choir in the world – has been some 532 years in the making; the first recording in the chapel since its consecration in 1483.
More famous for its visual pleasures, courtesy of Michelangelo, Botticelli and several other Renaissance masters, the acoustic properties of world’s best-known chapel give this recording an aural profile unlike any other.
And then there are the pieces themselves. Nine of its 16 tracks were composed, or are thought to have been composed, by Palestrina, and the recording includes the world premiere of his original version of Allegri’s fabled Miserere (Sistine Codex of 1661) and a Nunc dimittis which is still used during papal celebrations.
There are also glorious pieces of Gregorian chant as well as works by Lassus and Victoria, among others.
They are sung in the manner their composers intended – in Latin and in the surroundings for which they were originally written.
The Sistine Chapel Choir is made up of 20 adult singers and 30 boy choristers.
In order to capture the magic, mystery and beauty of the music in such unique surroundings, the prestigious classical music label Deutsche Grammophon set up a specially constructed studio within the chapel.
The mixing desk was set up in an ante-chamber, next to the Sala del Pianto or ‘Room of Tears’ where the newly elected pontiff first dresses in the papal vestments.
Mark Wilkinson, president of Deutsche Grammophon, expressed the full significance of the recording upon its release in September.
“This extraordinary choir, which has served successive popes since the early centuries of Christianity, has never before made a commercial recording in its home,” Mr Wilkinson said.
“This very special record has the power, the beauty, and the excellence to find a truly global audience ‒ and an audience beyond the traditional confines and boundaries of classical music.”
Mr Wilkinson handed a copy of the recording to Pope Francis earlier this year.
“Handing the first copy of the album to His Holiness was, as you can imagine, an enormous privilege, and a truly humbling and joyous experience,” he told classicfm.com
“We knew that he encouraged this recording to happen, we know that he is an admirer of the DG label, and on the day, he appeared grateful and genuinely happy to receive the album, and interested to hear of our plans to spread the news to as wide an audience as possible.”