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O Clap Your Hands,
This review is from: Stile Antico - The Phoenix Rising (Audio CD)
Stile Antico was formed in Oxford in 2001 by a group consisting largely of students at the University. The name (meaning literally 'in the old style') reflected their interest in repertoire of the 16th and 17th centuries, and they elected early on to work without a conductor, instead allowing each member of the ensemble equal input into the overall interpretation of a work.
Their extraordinarily balanced yet profound realisations of Renaissance polyphony saw them take the audience prize at the York Early Music Festival in 2005. It also brought them to the attention of the music industry and they were quickly signed to the American arm of Harmonia Mundi. The collaboration has been a fruitful one, and this is their eighth album together.
For The Phoenix Rising, Stile celebrate the centenary of the Carnegie UK Trust, whose publication of Tudor Church Music in the 1920s has been vastly influential on the development of the English choral tradition, of which Stile are now exemplars. This series of ten volumes of church music brought to a wider audience a collection of pieces which had hitherto been hidden away in libraries or only available in difficult to read partbooks. The selection on the album ranges from John Taverner (O splendor gloriae) through to Gibbons' O clap your hands together, taking in other luminaries of English Renaissance sacred music such as Byrd, Tallis and White along the way.
The recording, made at St Jude-on-the-Hill, is intimate, warm and not overly-reverberant; this suits the group's style well, allowing the nuances of inflection to be captured within the transparent textures. Negotiating a path between a sort of diaphanous sterility and an overly expressive and unbecoming lushness, Stile have found a sound which allows for the heartfelt expression of these extraordinary pieces, whilst maintaining a crystal-clear tonal integrity.
These are regal and affecting interpretations of works which came into existence in often troubled and turbulent times, the unfaltering devotion which they communicate all the more powerful for being understated. A worthy example of the English choral tradition indeed.