Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In review---Angels in the Rafters

Stile Antico
Puer natus est
Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
Harmonia Mundi

It’s the first week of September and I’m not dreaming about the Christmas holiday. In fact, I’m clinging to the last embers of summer so why would I review 2 Christmas music albums (see the Anonymous 4 review below), this month?  Puer natus est is the second Stile Antico album I’ve heard, Song of Songs was the first. Again the young English choir sings with razor-sharp intonation and the soprano vocals possessing bell-like clarity, grounded by the tenors, baritones, basses, and altos.

Stile Antico isn’t the first young early music choir I’ve heard that performs Thomas Tallis sacred works or Catholic Church music of the Tudor period (English Tudor kings and queens reign).  The Tudor Choir of Seattle can boast the same claim. And both choirs provide their audiences with compelling and stunningly beautiful programs. Certainly someone could listen to this sacred music with a religious mindset or listen to it for its meditative qualities.  But in either case it’s a real challenge to walk away without feeling some kind of spiritual transcendence. Sacred renaissance polyphony has in recent years has in addition to fans of early music, has also attracted people into a new age lifestyle and Gothic music.

Puer natus est features three main works, Thomas Tallis Missa Puer natus est, William Byrd’s Gradualia I, and John Taverner’s Audivi vocem de caelo, along with an anonymous plainchant, Puer natus est, Robert White’s Magnificat and John Shepherd’s Verbum caro. I’m not familiar enough with these renaissance/Tudor period composers to critique each of the tracks, but I can comment on the gorgeous tapestry of voices ranging from bass to soprano and the antiphons followed by a glorious wall of voices that these 12 vocalists represent.  The opening piece, Tallis’ Videte miraculum, lasting over 11 minutes quickly became my favorite.  It certainly sets the mood for the entire album, and acts as doorway into a compelling realm—provides a nice transition from the secular world to a sacred space. I’ve even played this music in the background while meditating, as well as, playing the music before falling asleep.

So Christmas comes a few months early this year ushered in by Anonymous 4 and Stile Antico.  Perhaps we need the spirit of Christmas during these hopeless times.  Perhaps we need this music to open our hearts and reclaim the act of giving to others. Even so, I’ll most likely put this recording away until December when there’s a chill in the air, darkness in my window, and the need for 12 friendly voices to warm the hearth. It truly feels like a feast for all the senses and would grace any holiday environment.

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