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Glossy, but lifeless
on 18 September 2013
Stile Antico are very much flavour of the month at the moment, releasing plenty of discs that are generally very well received. Their approach of singing without a conductor, their blended sound, and their choice of repertoire, most of which is from pretty well-ploughed furrows, lend them a broad appeal.
This, their most recent CD (in 2013), returns not to a well-ploughed furrow, but to a broad highway in English choral music: Byrd's Mass for 5 voices, Tallis' 'Salvator Mundi' and 'In ieiunio et fletu', along with some Gibbons, Morley, White and Taverner. Only two tracks struck me as being outside of the standard repertoire of cathedral and college choirs - White's 'Portio Mea' and Taverner's 'O splendor gloriae.' I think it's also true to say that, with the exception of the Taverner, the Tallis Scholars have recorded everything on this disc before. (This isn't to say that they have done a better or worse job, but there seems to be, with the exception of their interesting 'Tune thy musicke to thy hart' disc, a close convergence between Stile's repertoire, and that of their early music forbears.')
In the end, I was disappointed by this disc. The sound is very perfect, immaculate, even, and I found myself struggling to differentiate between the pieces I was listening to, despite the range of styles and sentiments on offer. For background listening, this CD is ideal, but Stile seem to have sacrificed communicating emotion and meaning to the imperative of a perfectly blended ensemble sound. Even the recording itself seems strangely glossy, the voices oddly rounded-off in the space. In the end, I'd look for individual recordings of the works elsewhere.