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Live Performances

High praise for Cuenca debut

Simón Andueza, RITMO (10 April, 2023)

The first of the two concerts corresponded to the English vocal group Stile Antico. The programme, curiously titled after a work by John Sheppard, Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria, is truly a well-deserved tribute to one of the greatest composers the United Kingdom has given mankind, William Byrd (ca.1540-1623 ), on the 400th anniversary of his death, an event that sadly has gone completely unnoticed in our country until now.

In the United Kingdom they are not wasting the opportunity and I know that a multitude of events are taking place around this figure, not only offering concerts of his monumental music, but also organizing all kinds of events such as conferences, workshops , recordings or symposiums. To give just one example, his monumental Gradualia, published in two collections, in 1605 and 1607, is being performed in its entirety in Westminster Cathedral…

Stile Antico had as its main thread the concert the beautiful Mass for 4 voices (1592/1593), which every English lover of this type of music knows perfectly, just as we Spaniards know the Officium Defunctorum for six voices (1605) by Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The chosen program, much of it recently recorded on Decca Classics, focuses on the music of the last years of William Byrd, written mainly for underground Catholic services for his patron in Essex, including the lush Propersfor the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. To all this, Stile Antico added some masterpieces by contemporary English composers of Byrd, such as John Sheppard, William Parsons or John Taverner.

They began the concert with the short Ecce virgo concipiet, replete with the pure and strict Palestinian counterpoint, but seasoned with Byrd’s characteristic harmonies. Such pure, stable imitative lines. Compact, each voice blended,a perfect imitation of each other, as was the case throughout the evening.

Subsequently, the joy of Gaudeamus omnes was apparent from the beginning, perfectly capturing the fact that sacred texts in Latin can – and should – be treated in an expressive way, and in what a formidable way it was presented to us, not in a superfluous and hardly credible way, but in an internal way, truly full of joy, light and hope. Those who say that English groups are cold should see the communicative Stile Antico live, who also performed a fantastic tuning exercise in the beautiful dissonances of the motet. The tempi were here, and in the rest of the program, stable and precise, making one entirely forget the absence of a director.

Next, the leitmotiv of the day, the Mass for 4 voices, fooled us with its precious Kyrie and Gloria, the first relaxed and vehement, and the second full of formidable musical declamations of its text, lovingly pampering the text, and demonstrating their love, respect and commitment to this music. The humility of each member of the English group was palpable here, each submitting to the ensemble, making a perfect exercise in chamber music.

Another way of composing by William Byrd was revealed to us in the simple Propter veritatem with its two-voice dialogues, and the more spectacular and massive ‘Assumpta es Maria’, full of the typical Tudor style that we Iberians like to hear so much, so different from the ours, but so phenomenal. The high-pitched cantus firmus of the sopranos were truly pristine, while we listened in astonishment to the perfect fabordones and the false relations of piquant tuning. It was a fantastic exercise in form and expressiveness.

The monumental motet that gave the concert its title, Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria by John Sheppard (ca.1515-1558) for six voices, one of the composer’s greatest responsories, which interpolates the ‘prose’ for the Second Vespers of the Festival of Purification. The formidable tuning of the rich six-voice harmony together with the extreme purity of the melodic lines made us emotional and our souls found themselves truly elevated, even if one does not believe in these dogmas, before the interval.

After the break, that absolute marvel that is Ave Maria by William Parsons (fl.1545-1563), hardly performed by our ensembles, but enormously popular in England, was performed with that sincere hope of someone who tastes a wonderful pleasure . The timbres were especially beautiful in the tenors, and that perfection in tuning, along with the lavish conjunction of each and every one of the 12 voices was simply spectacular. After the joyous Assumpta est Maria, it was the turn of another movement of the Mass at 4 the Sanctus with its Benedictus, which continued on the path marked out by Parsons’ motet, full of hope, sonic beauty and perfection in imitative lines.

The concert ended after the Agnus Dei with Ave Dei Patris filia nobilissima, by John Taverner (ca.1490-1545), with a Marian text, like almost the entire concert, since it was one of the maxims of Catholicism embraced by Byrd. The text is one of the most popular of the early 16th century in England. Taverner uses the plainchant of the Te Deum as a second tenor cantus firmus, something very rare after 1500. This work is a paradigm of religious symbolism: there are many references to the number 3, that is, to the Trinity, such as the number of semibreves contained, a total of 333. Leaving aside this invaluable circumstance from an auditory point of view, the work had enough joy and virtuosity for the public to applaud insistently, standing up for the formidable English group, which has the peculiarity of being always have the same members, something very unusual in this type of groups, especially in England… ​​which denotes their superior degree of commitment, and the result is a formidable and irreplacable chamber ensemble with unusual personal involvement.

After these insistent cheers, we were able to enjoy as an encore the spectacular Hosanna to the Son of David by Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), in six voices, which turns out to be the Introit for Palm Sunday.