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Bath BachFest concert praised in the Guardian

Rian Evans, The Guardian (24 February, 2019)

Stile Antico opened this year’s Bath Bachfest with music that offered divine consolation, contrasting motets by JS Bach with the choral work for which his predecessor Heinrich Schütz is best remembered, the Musikalische Exequien. Funereal, yes, but – being, along with Bach, a committed Lutheran – the notion of death carried with it messages of hope and eternal joy, radiantly sung by the 12 voices of Stile Antico.

The texts Schütz set, more two centuries before Brahms wrote Ein Deutsches Requiem, were from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, including words by the great reformer himself, carefully assembled by a German count to commemorate himself after his death. Heinrich Posthumus of Gera, so called because his father died before his birth, must have felt destined to reflect on posterity: he calmly embraced mortality and the intrinsic need for spiritual comfort.

Stile Antico’s attention to the colour of words, subtle alternation of solo voices and different groupings of singers lent constant variety to the timbre and tone of the sound. The culminating Song of Simeon, interpolating the words Blessed are the Dead from Revelation, sung by a trio at St Mary’s high altar and echoing the spatial effects Schütz had learnt from the masters of Venice, was a further reflection on the inevitable passage of time.

Performing without a conductor is Stile Antico’s trademark, the acute listening and blending, each with others, brings an extra immediacy.

Bach’s motet Jesu, Meine Freude, BWV 227, crowned the evening, its various workings of the familiar chorale contrasting with the gorgeously long interwoven lines, and Gute Nacht, O Wesen, achieving a serene beauty.