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A Musical Journey into the English Renaissance
Stile Antico
rec. 2007-12
HARMONIA MUNDI HMX2908727.29 [3 CDs: 78:09 + 78:51 + 74:34]

Gaudete! Stile Antico have reissued a trio of their discs at a bargain price, and just in time for Christmas. We've reviewed all three of the featured discs elsewhere on MusicWeb International (and made each of them a Recording of the Month), so my main job is merely to reinforce how good they are, and to urge you to pick them up at this price while you still can.

One of the featured discs is, in fact, their first Christmas disc, Puer natus est. It is structured using a favourite Stile Antico device: a multi-movement work with other pieces interspersed between its movements. In this case, it's Tallis' Missa puer natus est, which is extraordinarily complex, of great scale and very beautifully sung. The Gloria is radiant; the Agnus Dei even more so, with a spellbinding Dona nobis pacem. Four of Byrd's Propers form the disc's other unifying feature. His Rorate coeli is both reflective and mysterious and his Ave Maria has prayerful simplicity to it. Meanwhile, the harmonic shifts of Ecce Virgo create a sense of awe and anticipation. Elsewhere on the disc, there is a beautiful sense of mystery to Videte miraculum; deeply reflective and profoundly meditative. When you compare the slightly business-like way the Taverner Consort sing the same number, it helps you to realise just how much Stile Antico are a cut above. Taverner's Audivi voce, the earliest piece on disc, is strikingly austere in places, while Robert White's soaring six-part Magnificat and Sheppard's equally ambitious Verbum caro form a dazzling pair to conclude the disc.

Heavenly Harmonies had critics reaching for superlatives when it was released in 2008, and it has lost none of its power to dazzle in the interim. Interspersing Byrd's Latin Catholic texts with Tallis' Protestant English Psalm setting was a masterstroke of inspiration, serving to highlight links between them as well as differences. The Tallis psalms are all sung with directness and clarity, while the Byrd motets soar with ethereal beauty. There may be a directly communicative style to his Vigilate, which even seems to laugh at one stage, but the highlight is the magnificent Infelix Ego, a piece of almost erotic spiritual beauty which grows in power as it develops. The major key sonority of motets like Ne irascaris make then deeply expressive and immediately communicative to their audiences, and the choir's homogeneity of sound coupled with the resonant acoustic make this every bit as much of a hit as it was on release.

The Phoenix Rising is a more niche release, but it points up the choir's penchant for intelligent programming, celebrating the centenary of the UK trust that first published the collection of Tudor church music that was to have such a major impact on British musical life. There is beauty in the Byrd, joy in the Gibbons, and appealing warmth in the White, as well as much else besides. The acoustic of St Jude's Church helps the choral sound to glow quietly, generating spine-tingling effect after spine-tingling effect.

The only major downside of this set is that you don't get the text and translations that were provided with the originals, but a rudimentary internet search will furnish you with most if not all of them. Furthermore, these discs are in stereo only: there is no surround option which there was in the originals. However, that won't bother everyone, and most will agree that the bargain price more than makes up for it. I can't imagine a music-lover who wouldn't be delighted with this set, at Christmas or any other time of the year.

Simon Thompson

Previous reviews (original releases): Puer natus est ~~ Heavenly Harmonies ~~ The Phoenix Rising

Puer natus est - Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585) Videte miraculum [11:39]
John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545) Audivi vocem de caelo [4:09]
William BYRD (c.1540-1623) Rorate caeli desuper (Gradualia I, 1605) [4:42]
Thomas TALLIS Gloria (Missa Puer natus est) [9:28]
William BYRD Tollite portas (Gradualia I) [2:10]
Thomas TALLIS Sanctus & Benedictus (Missa Puer natus est) [8:55]
William BYRD Ave Maria (Gradualia I) [2:08]
Thomas TALLIS Agnus Dei (Missa Puer natus est) [8:23]
William BYRD Ecce virgo concipiet (Gradualia I) [2:15]
Robert WHITE (c.1538-1574)Magnificat [13:51]
Plainchant Puer natus est [1:11]
John SHEPPARD (c.1515-1558)Verbum caro [9:17]
rec. January 2010, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London. [78:09]

Heavenly harmonies
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
9 Psalm tunes for Archbishop Parker's psalter (1567). Third tune: Why fum'th in fight? [0:56]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623) Vigilate (Cantiones Sacrae I, 1589) [4:16]
Thomas TALLIS Fifth tune: E'en like the hunted hind [1:04]
William BYRD Ne irascaris Domine (CS I) [9:38]
Thomas TALLIS Second tune: Let God arise [0:51]
William BYRD Exsurge Domine (Cantiones Sacrae II, 1591) [4:30]
Thomas TALLIS Sixth tune: Expend, O Lord [1:10]
William BYRD Infelix ego (CS II) [16:03]
Thomas TALLIS Eighth tune: God grant with grace [1:34]
William BYRD Laetentur coeli (CS I) [3:39]
Thomas TALLIS First tune: Man blest no doubt [1:11]
William BYRD Quis est homo (CS II) [7:13]
Thomas TALLIS Veni Creator: Come Holy Ghost [0:31]
William BYRD Mass Propers for Pentecost (Gradualia II, 1607): Introit: Spiritus Domini [4:31]; Ofertory: Confirma hoc Deus [2:08]; Communion: Factus est repente [1:43]
Thomas TALLIS Seventh tune: Why brag'st in malice [0:47]
William BYRD Tribulationes civitatum (CS I) [10:27]
Thomas TALLIS Fourth tune: O come in one to praise the Lord [0:59]
William BYRD Laudibus in sanctis (CS II) [5:34]
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, May 2007 [78:51]

The Phoenix Rising
William BYRD (c.1540-1623)
Ave verum corpus [4:08]
Mass for five voices [21:02]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
O clap your hands together [5:34]
Almighty and everlasting God [2:17]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)
Nolo mortem peccatoris [3:13]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Salvator Mundi (I) [3:20]
In ieiunio et fletu [4:38]
John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545)
O splendor gloriae [12:53]
Robert WHITE (c.1538-1574)
Portio mea [6:53]
Christe qui lux es et dies (IV) [6:23]
rec. November 2012, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London [74:34]


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