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A Spanish Nativity

Financial Times praises ‘A Spanish Nativity’

Richard Fairman, The Financial Times (20 December, 2019)

One of the oldest Christmas traditions in Spain is the nativity scene, dating back around seven centuries. Most towns and cities will have elaborate models of the nativity on display in the main square, many of them having evolved over the years to include moving pieces or special effects.

Stile Antico’s contribution to this tradition is a Spanish nativity scene pictured in music. The disc focuses on the country’s Golden Age, which essentially means the 16th century, when the Catholic Church was at the height of its wealth and artistic influence.

The flowering of sacred music by Spanish composers is one of the treasures of this period. In recent decades the music has become familiar in high-quality performances, thanks to its championing by small, professional vocal ensembles.

Stile Antico is one of the leaders in this field. The programme for A Spanish Nativity is planned around the rich polyphony of Alonso Lobo’s Missa Beata Dei genitrix. Written for the feast of the nativity of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Mass is given its warm fullness of sound by six voice parts, sung here two to a part with exemplary poise and glow.

It is interspersed on this disc with Christmas motets by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Cristóbal de Morales and Francisco Guerrero, including his Beata Dei genitrix Maria, on which Lobo’s mass is based. To lighten the mood, there are some more upbeat numbers, including an exuberant ensalada by Mateo Flecha, and a handful of traditional carols using folk melodies, which add some catchy Renaissance rhythms and a seasonal feeling of joy.