High Praise from Santa Fe
James M. Keller, Santa Fe New Mexican (3 October, 2014)
Aficionados of Renaissance choral music eagerly anticipate new releases from the conductorless British vocal ensemble Stile Antico. The group’s eight previous CDs have regularly figured as contenders and winners in international recording competitions. This ninth offering will doubtless follow suit. It is a compellingly programmed, hold-your-breath beautiful recital of 16th-century masterworks written for, or especially associated with, a succession of Hapsburg rulers, principally Maximilian I, Charles V, and Philip II. Eleven of the era’s all-star composers contribute to the playlist through works specifically attached to certain monarchs or political events. Highlights? Really, there are no highlights; everything is at the same elevated level of quality in both composition and performance. The ensemble, which ranges here from 12 to 15 singers, brings flawless blend and balance but also scores expressive points through delicate shading of a cappella tone color. The earliest work in the collection visits King David’s lament on the loss of his son Absalom, here in a stately motet Pierre de la Rue wrote on the passing of Hapsburg favored son Philip the Handsome in 1506. Heinrich Isaac’s kaleidoscopic “Virgo prudentissima,” from the following year, celebrates Maximilian’s installation as Holy Roman Emperor. Greatness inhabits every track by way of (among others) Netherlanders Josquin and Gombert, Spaniards Morales and Lobo, and even Englishman Tallis (since Mary I Tudor married a Hapsburg).