Wednesday 23 September 2015

Celebrating 10 years of Stile Antico

Sing with the Voice of Melody - Stile Antico
Sing with the Voice of Melody; Stile Antico; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 09 2015
Star rating: 4.0

A selection of back recordings celebrating the group's 10th anniversary plus some stunning John McCabe

This disc has been issued by Harmonia Mundi to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the vocal ensemble Stile Antico (what 10 already!). Entitled Sing with the Voice of Melody we have a selection of items, both ancient and modern, recorded at various times between 2006 and 2013. Each item is introduced (in the booklet) by one of the current members of the ensemble, explaining their selection which gives an interesting sidelight on what the singers think about this music. The composers, with one exception, are all core Stile Antico with works by Thomas Tomkins, Clemens non Papa, William Byrd, Nicolas Gombert, Thomas Tallis, Victoria, John Sheppard, Gibbons, and Rodrigo de Ceballos. The exception is, of course, the late John McCabe whose Woefully Arrayed the group premiered.

We start with a gloriously rich performance of Thomas Tomkins O praise the Lord, perfectly sung and balanced but also with a hint of over-steadiness of tempo. Clemens non Papa's Ego flos campi (using 14 rather than the group's regular 12 voices) is calmly beautiful and very moving in the control of its richness. William Byrd's Ecce virgo concipiet is simply perfect, a miracle of polyphony beautifully done.

Nicolas Gombert's Magnificat primi toni is a substantial piece (nearly 12 minutes) which alternates rich polyphony and a steady build up of textures with plainchant. Thomas Tallis's In pace in idipsum is one of those quietly beautiful Tallis pieces which conceal their complexity of construction underneath a seemingly straightforward exterior. Again we alternate chant and polyphony and it is nice to hear the women getting a chance to sing chant. Byrd's Vigilate, scored for five voices, is full of lovely rhythms providing the impetus. Victoria's O vos omnes, here sung with lower voices (alto, tenor, tenor bass) which gives it a rich, dark texture, has the composer's familiar combinations of elegant yet wrenching harmony and a sense of open textures.

John McCabe's Woefully Arrayed was premiered by Stile Antico in 2009, the first non-Renaissance piece that they had performed. It is a setting of a poem familiar from William Cornysh's setting. In fact the news of McCabe's death arrived shortly before the disc went to print. From the stark harmonies of its dramatic opening, this is a very arresting piece. There is no sense of McCabe trying to write 'old' music but he uses the clarity of line and texture which the singers bring and does so with a masterly ear.

With John Sheppard's The Lord's Prayer we return to luxuriant, spacious polyphony, sung with great poise and simplicity. Gibbon's O clap your hands together is one of the most familiar pieces on the disc, but that does not make it any the less welcome. It was one of the first pieces of early music that alto Katie Schofield performed and that is probably true of most people. Stile Antico articulate the music with a lovely sense of the rhythmic detail. Rodrigo de Ceballos's Hortus conclusus is perhaps the least well known piece on the disc, full of darkly expressive polyphony setting verses from the Song of Songs. Finally we get the Gloria from Thomas Tallis's Missa Puer natus est to finish off in fine style.

The current members of the ensemble are Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey, Emma Ashby, Eleanor Harries, Katie Schofield, Jim Clements, Andrew Griffiths, Benedict Hymas, Will Dawes, Thomas Flint, and Matthew O'Donovan but a total 26 singers are used and the current core group only all appear on one track. So the disc is more a record of the group's history than a current snapshot.

This disc makes a fine introduction to the poised and beautifully crafted performances of Stile Antico. Not everyone will want the sort of omnium gatherum programme presented here, and some will prefer their more thematic discs. But everyone should want this fine recording of John McCabe's work for them.

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) - O praise the Lord
Jacobus Clemens non Papa (1510/15-1555/56) - Ego flos campi
William Byrd (1540-1623) - Ecce virgo concipiet
Nicolas Gombert (1495-1560) - Magnificat primi toni
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) - In pace in idipsum
William Byrd (1540-1623) - Vigilate
Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) - O vos omnes
John McCabe (1939-2015) - Woefully arrayed
John Sheppard (1515-1558) - The Lord's Prayer
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) - O clap your hands together
Rodrigo de Ceballos (1530-1581) - Hortus conclusus
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) - Gloria (Missa Puer natus est)
Stile Antico
Recorded between 2006 and 2013
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807658 1CD [72.41]
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