Singers elegantly recreate early music

Post image for Singers elegantly recreate early music

April 18, 2013

Stile Antico
Passion and Resurrection: Music for Lent and Eastertide
Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music

Reviewed by Konstantin R. Bozhinov.

Stile Antico’s recent interpretation of Renaissance vocal masterworks was elegant and polished without sounding too pompous. The singers combined great ensemble work with artistic awareness and deep understanding of the music.

In his introductory remarks, one of the singers called Goolden Hall a “rather intimate space.” Smaller than Wigmore or Carnegie Halls, the space is just fine for twelve a capella singers. The group’s  crystalline sound and vibrato was typical of the English choir tradition,  a sound established by the Tallis Scholars and King’s College choir a few decades earlier. This aesthetic can come across as restrained and conservative, but Stile Antico’s version suggested precision and attention to detail. Clarity of diction reinforced ensemble cohesiveness, although the style of the music dictates independence of each of the parts.

The program consisted mainly of English 16th century composers, interspersed with Spanish and French pieces. The concert was themed around Lent and Easter and most of the text was in Latin. Pieces by John Taverner, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd showcased the best musical achievements of the English Renaissance, while Spain was represented by Cristobal de Morales and Tomas Luis de Victoria. The only French pieces were by Crequillon and Lheritier. Since the overall style of the music was the same, Stile Antico provided diversity through insightful interpretation.

John McCabe’s Woefully arrayed, written for Stile Antico, was a surprising modern end to the first half of the concert. The performance was top notch, but the composition itself did not fit the overall program. The second half balanced this deficiency through more elaborate dynamics and musical detail. The last piece was the brief but virtuosic In resurrectione tua by William Byrd, a fine way to end. The encore offered Thomas Campion, a slightly later composer with a distinctly different style.  Its brief phrases and lack of voice independence almost mocked the complicated polyphony of the entire program, showing that there is beauty in simplicity.

To my ear, the group creates a brilliant Renaissance sound I’d call elegant and refined. Stile Anticoi is well on its way to becoming a leading early-music a capella group.

Konstantin R. Bozhinov is a Ph.D. student in historical musicology at UVic, as well as a professional performer on the lute and baroque guitar.

Previous post:

Next post: