Monday 7 January 2013

Stile Antico bring a real sense of passion and drama to their new release from Harmonia Mundi

In the years since the pioneering David Wulstan founded the Clerkes of Oxenford, way back in 1964, the number of specialist early music choirs in Britain has increased enormously. In recent years many of these choirs have expanded their range and taken on contemporary repertoire which is an aspect of a new release featuring Stile Antico

Stile Antico, literally meaning ‘old style’, is an ensemble of young British singers who, working without a conductor, rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing artistically to the musical result. The group performs regularly throughout Europe and North America. Their recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label have enjoyed great success, winning awards including the Diapason d'Or de l'année and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and have twice attracted GRAMMY nominations. Their release Song of Songs won the 2009 Gramophone Award for Early Music and reached the top of the US Classical Chart.

HMU 807555

Their latest release from Harmonia Mundi , Passion and Resurrection, groups together works by composers of the late 16th and early 17th century that relate to the events of Holy Week. Showing their commitment to a broader range of music, Stile Antico have arranged this CD around a central performance of John McCabe’s own setting of the text Woefully Arrayed set by William Cornysh that starts this disc.


In Woefully Arrayed by William Cornysh (1465-1523) Stile Antico have a richness of texture and directness of delivery that projects Cornysh’s setting very effectively. Whilst the Tallis Scholars on Gimell show a little more variety of feeling, Stile Antico’s directness and power is most attractive and, in Orlando Gibbons’ (1583-1625) Hosanna to the Son of David, the music really soars in a lovely performance.

The choir builds up a fine blend of textures as Thomas Tallis’ (c.1505-1585) O Sacrum Convivium progresses. Again the music really takes off with the genius of Tallis really shining through. I found this wonderfully rich performance the highlight of the disc. In the setting of In Monte Oliveti by Orlande Lassus (1532-1594) Stile Antico bring a real sense of the passion and drama to the words ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’.

Cristobal de Morales’ (c.1500-1553) O Crux, ave, spes unica has a beautiful ebb and flow with remarkable control. Towards the end the female voices soar beautifully over the choir. Stile Antico bring an intense feel to Tomas Luis de Victoria’sO Vos omnes with sensitivity and passion in the words ‘…if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow…’

John McCabe (b.1939) wrote his own setting of Woefully Arrayed as the result of a commission from the Three Choirs Festival. It is dedicated to Stile Antico. There are subtle dissonances before, at the words ‘…unkindly, harshly, threatening…’ the music becomes more strident. Whilst the music soon returns to a quite lamentation a certain stridency always lurks. This work contrasts against the subtle writing of the early composers who knew how to bring out the feeling and pain of the passion story without resort to violent contrasts. Nevertheless, on its own terms, McCabe’s setting provides an effective and varied, if slightly meandering work.

John Taverner’s (c.1490-1545) Dum transisset brings us back to the beauty of the 16th century in a lovely setting, taken at a steady pace that allows the music to unfold naturally. Stile Antico are very much of their own mind by taking around two minutes longer than The Sixteen on Hyperion’s budget Helios label. The Sixteen have a brighter sound, less rich, though this might be due to the recording and acoustic. Either way this new recording never drags and again provides a lovely richness that other performances often lack.

The setting of Maria Magdalene by Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) brings some light in this fast flowing performance of a setting relating to Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ tomb. William Byrd’s (1540-1623) setting of In resurrection tua further brightens the mood in a finely sung performance.

I have to confess to not knowing the music of Jean Lheritier (c.1480-c.1551), but I found his exquisite Matins responds Surrexit pastor bonus a lovely work beautifully realised by Stile Antico. Orlando Gibbons is further represented on this disc by his setting of I am the Resurrection and the Life. Stile Antico keep the music moving in a flowing performance, rising and falling naturally and bringing a gentle joy to the music.

Thomas Crecquillon’s (c.1505-c. 1557) celebratory setting of Congratulamini mihi concludes this disc with Stile Antico’s female voices opening the work and the choir as a whole providing a wonderful variety of texture in a setting that perhaps lacks its own variety.

Stile Antico bring their own distinctive sound to this repertoire that adds a richness and strength to the music. There is excellent sound from the ample acoustic of All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London and the CD is beautifully produced with details from 15th century English and Flemish Book of Hours on the cover, booklet and insert.

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