The Classics: December 18

Veni Domine. Sistine Chapel Choir, Cecilia Bartoli (soprano). Deutsche Grammophon CD

Issued with vocal works for Advent and Christmas, this CD by the world-famous all-male choir of the Sistine Chapel in Rome impresses from its opening Gregorian chant, Gaudate in Domino semper.

But a big excitement is that Cecilia Bartoli features as the first female singer to record with the choir in the chapel. She is soloist in the outstanding second track Beata Viscera, by Renaissance composer Perotin, who lived in the 13th century and is thought to be French. (Linked with the Notre Dame school of polyphony, he is one of the few whose name and music has survived.)

While the Sistine Chapel is famous for the ceiling, its amazing, huge fresco painted by Michelangelo over five years in the early 16th century and its other art treasures, the musical ear notes impressive characteristics as an echo chamber, which seems to set a unique seal on all messages delivered by the choir. Echoes certainly adorn this recording and Bartoli makes gorgeous use of their depth as she hits some of her high notes in this heavenly music.

The diva blends in beautifully and sensitively with the male voices of the choir, bringing a wonderful richness to the whole performance. Her interpretative experience of other early music no doubt appealed to choir director Massimo Palombella, who draws his material from the precious archives of the Vatican Apostolic Library, one of the biggest in the world. I have mentioned only two of 16 tracks on this disc, the other works being lovely Gregorian chants and motets by early composers.

Verdict: Beautiful voices and enchanting echoes

- Geoff Adams

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