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The Times on ‘Divine Consolations’

Geoff Brown, The Times (1 Jun, 2017)

The programme was called Divine Consolations, and further described as “music of reflection and hope by Bach and his predecessors”. Not much of a foot-tapper, then? Actually our spirits soared; they always do when Stile Antico break forth with European liturgical choral music.
Somehow this British group have the magic knack of sprouting very individual vocal tones — one soprano is all honey, another is razor-edged — while still achieving a perfect blend. Intonation? Rock hard. I even enjoyed the pitch signals quietly hummed before the unaccompanied items started.
Expressivity magnified, naturally, once the actual pieces took off. One by one they flew up from the group’s sober semi-circle (dress code, black) without prodding from any conductor. Lightly supported by organ and theorbo, Bach’s epic motet Jesu, meine Freude took the crown, spinning from one vividly executed word picture to another in its tightly woven tapestry of chorale verses and biblical quotes. The singing in the chorale variation Gute Nacht, o Wesen particularly pierced the heart.
The other substantial offering, Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien (funeral prayers wrapped in the form of a vocal concerto) found the 12 voices at their most human, various, even occasionally threadbare. However, given the choice between velvet automatons and this rainbow show, I know which I prefer. Three of the voices peeled off en route to sing heavenly thoughts from the gallery — an effective touch.
Around these two blocks, smaller items gathered. Lassus’s Justorum animae radiated grave beauty. Other items came from the repertoire’s less familiar pages, including a florid nugget of Hans Leo Hassler and an urgent cry from Ludwig Daser. All nourishing, although I admit that I welcomed the lively encore by Giaches de Wert. Music of praise and joy — at last I could get off my knees.