The title and subtitle In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile requires at the least a bit of elaboration: Some of the composers here did not leave England during the Protestant rule of Elizabeth I but remained in what might, one supposes, be termed an interior exile. Chief among these was William Byrd, who enjoyed Elizabeth's favor, and the pieces offered by the virtuoso small (13 voices, mixed-gender adults) English choir Stile Antico are brought out in their full intensity by the program here. Likewise Dowland, who did flee to Denmark, is extremely effective in a vocal consort version of the famed Flow, my tears: It comes off as a deeply spiritual lament. Elsewhere the program gets a bit more diffuse. Richard Dering and Peter Philips make the cut as genuine exiles, whereas Philippe de Monte is here because the motet included is thought to have been addressed to Byrd as a kind of inquiry as to how things were going. This composer was Netherlandish, not English, but the inclusion is interesting in terms of understanding how the seemingly impersonal language of the Renaissance, especially on the Catholic side, might contain very specific messages. Flow, my tears is one of two English-language pieces included; the other, Huw Watkins' The Phoenix and the Turtle, is a contemporary piece, not Elizabethan at all except that it sets a text by Shakespeare. It refers to a controversial theory that Shakespeare himself was a recusant Catholic, and it doesn't fit with the rest of the music on the album, although the work was commissioned by Stile Antico and is beautifully performed by them. Indeed, the performances are richly textured throughout. A recommended release as long as you take into account that the title has to be broadly interpreted.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim