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In a Strange Land

High Praise for ‘In a Strange Land’ in The Observer

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer (20 January, 2019)

In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile (Harmonia Mundi) is the latest collection, released with unerring timeliness, from Stile Antico, the 12-strong ensemble whose name signals tonal purity, precision and musical intelligence. The theme is spiritual and political disjuncture. Many leading composers in the time of Elizabeth I were forced to uphold their Catholic faith in secrecy or exile, caught between conscience and submission. Together with shorter works such as John Dowland’s Flow, my tears, William Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas and Richard Dering’s Factum et silentium, Robert White’s majestic, 22-minute Lamentations provides the crowning glory. The album is enriched, in all respects, by a contribution from a modern Elizabethan, Huw Watkins (b1976). His setting of Shakespeare’s strange, allegorical poem The Phoenix and the Turtle – about the destruction of an ideal – is at once fluent and dissonant.