James M. Keller, Santa Fe New Mexican (8 February, 2019)
The latest recording by the British vocal ensemble Stile Antico is as imaginatively conceived and exquisitely sung as one would expect. Elizabethan England was officially Protestant, but it tolerated Catholics if they were discreet about it. William Byrd navigated the treacherous waters adeptly, but his five-part motet Tristitia et anxietas is imbued with sincerity. “Sadness and anxiety have overtaken my inmost being” sing the vocalists, their music rising from the depths and growing in harmonic density. Some composers fled. The downcast John Dowland, for example, left for Denmark: His song “Flow My Tears” opens this recital to heartrending effect. The accomplished madrigalist Richard Dering headed to the Low Countries, where he apparently held onto his good cheer — if we are to believe the jubilant Alleluias of his Factum est silentium. The playlist includes an extraordinary exchange between two of the finest Renaissance composers: Philippe de Monte, the Flemish music director to Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian in Vienna, sent Byrd his setting of the famous lamentation Super flumina Babylonis (the song of the Jews exiled in Babylon), and Byrd responded by writing his Quomodo cantabimus, which asks, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Here are the two pieces, cheek by jowl, in superb performances that combine ensemble warmth with just enough grit to intensify the emotional edge.