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Stile Antico’s York Festival appearance wins high praise

Martin Dreyer, Yorkshire Post (16 December, 2014)

It is wonderfully refreshing to experience a choir whose passion stems from – and enhances – its stunningly tight-knit ensemble. Such is Stile Antico, 12 straight-toned singers, three to a part, who on Sunday brought down the curtain on this year’s festival.

Best of all, they have no conductor. Nothing against conductors, of course, and heaven only knows what arguments rage in rehearsal. But they watch and listen intently to each other, with the added benefit that their faces are rarely in their music. So they communicate with us – and how.

In A Wondrous Mystery, they cleverly interleaved Clemens non Papa’s seasonal motet and dependent five-voice Mass Pastores Quidnam Vidistis? (Shepherds, what have you seen?) with German Renaissance motets on Christmas themes. It made a delightful mélange.

The most splendid of the interpolations was the sumptuous eight-voice Magnificat Quinti Toni by Hieronymus Praetorius (no relation of Michael), which included In Dulci Jubilo and Josef Lieber, Josef Mein, also in double-choir style. Tuning of pin-point accuracy – a given with this group – and sensitive, but never churchy, phrasing combined appealingly.

The mass itself benefited from rhythmic zest allied to a magical, but natural, flow, with climaxes clearly pointed and taut syncopation leading into cadences. When singing in German, they brought an earthier, even beefy, approach to a style with close affinities to the English madrigal. In barely ten years, Stile Antico has become the gold standard in this repertory.