This is Stile Antico's third disc and the first in which they have moved outside English repertoire. It is well up to the excellent standard of their first two.
The programme is a selection of settings of verses by various composers from the Song of Songs, which the sleeve notes describe as the most "profane" (for which read "erotic") book of the Bible. Used by composers to represent the love of God and of Mary, the texts are often intense, often passionate and speak of beauty, all of which is represented in the magnificent music presented here. It is a rich and varied programme, and the variety of composing styles makes it a really rewarding disc.
The performances are very good indeed. Stile Antico are increasingly regarded as among the top ensembles for this repertoire and their quality is well in evidence here: flawless intonation, a real empathy with music and text and a lovely, rich vocal blend. The acoustic is quite resonant which gives a rounded sound in which individual lines are not always completely distinct but whose overall effect is very lovely. Quite a few of these motets have been recorded by truly great ensembles like the Tallis Scholars and the Hilliard Ensemble; these versions stand up very well beside them, which is high praise indeed.
Harmonia Mundi's recorded sound is excellent and the packaging and notes are very good. It's a really cracking disc and recommended in the warmest terms.
For me the music on this CD sums up why the Renaissance is so exceptional.
A host of composers from different European countries, some famous some unfairly neglected, producing music of sublime beauty expressing sentiments from biblical texts which mere words are unable to convey.
As Sid Nuncious says in his excellent review the difference in styles makes this CD all the more rewarding. The intricate polyphony of Gombert favouring the lower voices contrasts with the beautiful flowing compositions of the Spanish school represented here by the two great masters Guerrero and Victoria.
The singing and acoustics are first-rate. Stile Antico merit their reputation as one of the leading ensembles in their field.
A composer who deserves more exposure is Jacob Clemens non Papa. His sublime Ego flos campi which opens this CD is his best known work but he is by no means a one hit wonder. I would recommend the Tallis Schollars "Clemens Non Papa: Sacred Choral Works" a fine introduction to his work.
I had seen this marvellous group of singers perform, and was not disappointed with the quality of content of this CD. This is a superb CD, and the accompaying notes are comprehensive and full of interest, but the singing is beyond words. I am not a serious music fan at all, but if I feel a bit stressed, this is the CD I put on to relax to. Cannot praise it enough.