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From the Imperial Court

Five-star review for Hapsburg recording

AH, Early Music Today (Dec 2014 - Feb 2015)

The Habsburgs are hot property this year: the dynasty featured prominently at two of Europe’s leading early music festivals (Utrecht and York) and there have been a clutch of new books on the family’s fortunes during the 16th and 17th centuries. At its greatest extent, the Hapsburg empire ruled over vast swathes of western Europe (as well as most of South America), and the mix of peoples and cultures that existed in Habsburg Europe is reflected in the latest recording by Stile Antico, in which they bring together works from the Spanish, Flemish, German and English schools of polyphony.

It’s a welcome return for Stile Antico to this continental repertoire – the crystalline, shimmering beauty that is their hallmark is tempered somewhat in much of the music because of the preponderance of lower parts and also owing to the occasional downwards transposition where it suits the music, but the results are no less spectacular. Lugubriousness and mourning draw the best from the ensemble on this recording: Senfl’s lament for the death of Emperor Maximilian I, Quis dabit oculis nostris, de la Rue’s Absalon fili mi, Alonso Lobo’s Versa est in luctum – if this is the music of melancholy, who needs to be happy? But the group bookends the disc with delightful performances of two decidedly festive works: Morales’s Jubilate Deo was written to celebrate a peace treaty between Spain and France, while Isaac’s monumental Virgo prudentissima (a paean of praise to Maximilian I) is 13 minutes of the finest I’ve ever heard Stile Antico sing.