This is a lovely collection of Renaissance motets for Holy Week by English, Spanish and Franco-Flemish composers, with one modern inclusion. They are performed by the dozen young voices of the British early music ensemble Stile Antico. Every one of the pieces, arranged in an appropriate sequence progressing through Easter week and Resurrection, is of very high quality, as befits music inspired by such momentous and moving events.
The programme opens with William Cornysh's striking 'Woefully arrayed', to a text attributed to his contemporary John Skelton consisting of the imagined words and feelings of Christ on the cross. It's a vividly expressive piece, and in well-judged contrast it's followed by the uplifting Gibbons motet 'Hosanna to the Son of David'. Of the many other fine works here, my own favourites include Orlande de Lassus' 'In monte Oliveti' (track 4), in which the great Fleming demonstrates to perfection his absolute mastery of polyphony in the service of profound textual expression.
After the modern setting of 'Woefully arrayed' (7) by John McCabe (b. 1939), the mood turns more optimistic in the Resurrection pieces. John Taverner's 'Dum transisset' (8) is another glorious work, appropriately seeming to transport the listener heavenward with its almost equally beautiful text from St. Mark's gospel. Francisco Guerrero's 'Maria Magdalene', again, is truly lovely, its soaring opening motif followed by a series of bell-like descending phrases. If you are captivated by this motet, as I am, you'll surely appreciate fellow Spaniard Alonso Lobo's inspired parody mass based on Guerrero's piece Lobo - Missa Maria Magdalene. Finally, the more I hear of Crecquillon's music, the more I love it: 'Congratulamini mihi' (13) is a beautifully developed, impeccably crafted motet culminating in a flawless climax. No wonder he was the favourite of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V - the latter flawed in politics, perhaps, but certainly not in musical taste.
This selection of works forms a fine and carefully judged programme, unified in spirit and purpose. It is all most beautifully performed by Stile Antico, mostly singing with three voices per part - fresh, youthful-sounding voices with a fine balance and blend, a lovely top line but no top-heaviness, with all the voices being given their due. The group's singing is spirited and stylish, with a devotional quality and a sure feeling for textual expression. The recording in a London church acoustic is excellent, and to round off this splendid programme we get a well-illustrated booklet with extremely useful notes written by bass singer Matthew O'Donovan. Recommended without hesitation to fans of the Renaissance and of fine singing in general.
I have all of Stile Antico SACD releases on Harmonia Mundi. This one, like the others does not disappoint in terms of the beauty of the music, from a wonderful performance, brought to life through the medium of the SACD Surround sound. The CD stereo version, as ever sounds flat when compared to the openness of the surround sound version. The quality of the sound is superb. The music is glorious and is a superb reflection for the Eastertide period. The only piece that really 'jars' with me is Track 7, the modern setting by John McCabe, I have to skip over this whenever I play the disc (I don't do that at all with any other of Stile Antico's discs). I am sure this piece has merits but regretfully not anything that I can appreciate. The music from the tracks before and after just flow and carry you off to other places, but the McCabe piece just makes me feel uncomfortable, I just can't listen to it, try as I might, it feels as though it just does not belong. That said, this is a disc to be highly recommended. Thanks HM for releasing this as an SACD and supporting a format which means we can enjoy the music and the performance at its best!
I still not quite sure how I found this group and the stunning early music they sing. If I have any criticism it is certainly not with the music or its performance but that I could only obtain it as an mp3 and not own the disc only being available in the now almost obsolete Hybrid SACD.