The Vatican has not been quite the same since Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the 266th head of the Roman Catholic Church. As Pope Francis, he broaches topical issues from climate control to various aspects of sexuality, albeit with more caution than some might like.

Most visibly, the Pontiff has relinquished his cumbersome, gas-guzzling Popemobile, turning to a humbler, fuel-friendly Fiat 500L as his chariot of choice.

The canny Francis has also opened the doors of the Sistine Chapel to the microphones and engineers of Deutsche Grammophon, to catch one of the world's oldest choirs in music written centuries ago for performance in this very venue.

It's certainly a shrewd and eminently marketable initiative, as folks count down the shopping days to Christmas; and the recording company has waxed enthusiastically about reaching a global audience beyond the traditional confines and boundaries of classical music.


The Vatican meanwhile takes care to remind us that this music is, first and foremost, a "fertile, important and effective tool in evangelisation".

The Sistine Chapel Choir, conducted by Massimo Palombella, consists of 20 men and 30 boys and the youngsters sing with Italianate warmth that you won't find with the piping boy sopranos of English cathedrals.

The music chosen favours the reverberant spaces of the 15th century chapel, perfect for the trail of resonant chords that introduce Victoria's Popule meus or the ecstatic weave of Palestrina's Adoramus Te, Christe.

The virtuoso jubilation of a Iubilate Deo by Lassus does not fare so well.

The acoustic does, however, work well for the men's unaccompanied Gregorian chants that punctuate a collection of extracts running from Advent to the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul. The longest and most celebrated offering, Allegri's Miserere, which the young Mozart famously copied by memory, is just as spectacular in its echoing textures as anything from the Venetian school of Gabrieli.

Two slight carps. If ever an album warranted a luxuriously illustrated "special edition", showcasing the glorious Renaissance art that looks down on these performances, this is it. And a 59-minute concert does seem ungenerous for so many centuries of inspirational music.


The Sistine Chapel relinquishes its musical secrets - or some of them.