Monday, October 22, 2012

In review--Easter in October

Stile Antico
Passion and Resurrection
Harmonia Mundi

Stile Antico represents young English vocalists who specialize in renaissance church composers and these vocalists do this quite well.  Every vocalist in the choir possesses an exquisite voice, from hearty altos, to clear-razor sharp sopranos, intense basses and baritones to tenors that rival the famous Irish tenors.  The choir mostly performs the works of English renaissance composers, and similar to another favorite of mine, The Tudor Choir (Seattle), Stile Antico perform the works of Thomas Tallis, whose O Sacrum Convivium appears as track 3.  Those of you familiar with renaissance church composers will recognize John Taverner, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons also of England. 

Rounding off the composers, the vocalists brought in works by three Spanish composers and three Flemish composers with pan-continental styles.  One modern chant by John McCabe (his first recording) is set to the same poem, Woefully Arrayed, as William Cornysh’s chant that opens the recording.  However, you can hear how history has transformed music, even polyphonic chants. I prefer the early music version and find McCabe's modern setting too dissonant for my tastes, even if the vocal performance is immaculate.

The program features polyphonic chants that chronicle Holy Week and Easter.  And I cannot tell you why this recording has been released at the other end of the year.  Do thoughts of hardship and redemption helps us to focus on the fall and winter days ahead?  Do these works, often with feelings of melancholy contrasting with elation help us to find hope in a chaotic world or give us hope?  Do I save this recording to listen to next spring? Perhaps, it feels like a gift I prefer to enjoy now, which I think most listeners of this stunning CD will agree.  After all, we have already grown accustom to listening to Handel’s Messiah during the Christmas holiday season, when in fact, Handel composed it for Holy Week and Easter.  So why not do the same with this program?

I’m now faced with a daunting task.  How do I choose a few tracks to describe? One favorite chant William Byrd’s In Resurrectione Tua that for me, echoes the counterpoint of John Dowland’s lute songs.  Here we have a strong and identifiable melodies sung with a joyful bounce.  Orlando Gibbons’ I am the Resurrection and the Life starts out with warm altos and tenors then the sopranos add their stratospheric vocals.  The chant reassures listeners with a sense of nobility and it ends on a harmonious and settled chord.  John Taverner’s magnificent Dum Transisset is the crowning glory of the recording.

With so much ethereal beauty presented on this recording, waiting until next spring to enjoy it, reminds me that we only have this moment.  Enjoy this recording any time, but don’t wait too long.

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