Stile Antico

Song of Songs

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The members of the British vocal ensemble Stile Antico, founded in 2001, have an exceptionally pure and youthful sound. In previous albums the group has explored English music of the Renaissance, and here it turns to sixteenth and early seventeenth settings of texts from the Song of Songs by a variety of continental composers. The selections include some of the masterworks of high Renaissance polyphony, including music by Nicolas Gombert, Orlande de Lassus, Jacob Clemens non Papa, Francisco Guerrero, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Tomás Luis de Victoria. The works by lesser composers, including Jean Lhéritier, Rodrigo de Ceballos, and Sebastián de Vivanco are no less impressive and affecting, especially in performances as polished and attentive as these. The elaborately polyphonic textures that prevail are effectively shown off and are kept from becoming too much of a good thing because they are interspersed with monophonic plainchant antiphons that serve as refreshing aural palate cleansers. The ensemble sings with immaculate intonation and an impressively broad expressive range. The group works without a conductor, and the sensitivity and attention that that demands of each member pays off beautifully in these performances, where they seem to operate as a single organic entity. The sound of the SACD is clean, but atmospheric and nicely ambient. The only caveat is that, through some anomaly of recording, some initial consonants, particularly "s" and "ch," have a percussive punch that works against the prevailing tone of smooth serenity.

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