The Phoenix Rising
This recording contains some of the best-known English works from the 16th and early 17th centuries, and there seems to be an ulterior motive for the gathering together of these favourites. The reason is that they became favourites almost a century ago when they were all included in the pioneering publication Tudor Church Music (1922-9). It was funded by the Carnegie UK Trust which was set up exactly 100 years ago this year.
The expertise of the Stile Antico group in this repertory is not in doubt and, as always, these singers give us some splendid performances. Gibbon’s O Clap Your Hands, for example, has a sure-footed exuberance, the imitative textures of Tallis’ Salvator Mundi are clean and nicely tuned, and the phrases of the Sanctus of Byrd’s 5-part Mass breath in logical and musical ways. A slight qualm is that Byrd’s Ave verum which opens the disc is almost lapidary in its tone and shape, with little pliancy or supplication at, for example, the words ‘miserere mei’. I wondered whether this was because, as they tell us, Stile Antico ‘works without a conductor’. The choir can build in large-scale contrasts between sections (soft vs loud), and the singers work collectively towards a climax at the end of a piece with an allargando finish (as in their marvellous rendering of Taverner’s O Splendor), but they sometimes seem to miss the nuances of individual lines in the texture and local moments of subtle expression. That said, the overall effect is extremely professional and pleasing.