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The Telegraph praises Stile Antico at the Wigmore

Ivan Hewitt, The Daily Telegraph (23 November, 2011)

In the rarefied world of Renaissance choral music the new(ish) kid on the block is Stile Antico. They’re a group of twelve young singers whio perform the great treasury of unaccompanied vocal polyphony from the mid 15th to the early 17th centuries.

How this music should be performed is still an open question. For many listeners the serene, measured euphony of older groups like the Tallis Scholars is really the only way. With a name like “Stile Antico” – old style — you’d expect this group to do something similar, i.e. stick closely to the written notes and aim for a simple style, without adding lots of expressive nuances and tempo changes just to please modern taste.

As this thrilling concert proved, Stile Antico is anything but antique. Their sound has the urgency and freshness you get from young voices, and an amazing rhythmic vitality. The concert was a 400th anniversary tribute to the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria, one of the giant figures in the final flowering of the Renaissance style in the late 16th century. Some of his beautifully wrought smaller pieces have been “hits” of the repertoire ever since they were written, and we heard a few of those, including O Magnum Mysterium. This was sung with luxurious slowness, beautifully sustained in all the voices — until the final Alleluia, when it broke into a gently swaying triple time.

Did any of this pay attention to the rule that speeds shouldn’t stray far from the speed of a man’s pulse, as the theorists of the time insisted? Probably not. But how well it suited the change of feeling in the words, from hushed wonder at the “great mystery” of Christ’s birth, to a song of praise. At the opposite end of the expressive spectrum were the jubilant pieces like the Ascendens Christus, where the rising figures portraying Christ’s ascension leaped over each other with thrilling vividness.

Stile Antico perform without a director, and one of the pleasures of the concert was witnessing twelve singers achieve perfect unanimity just through eye contact and the mysterious “feel” that really good chamber groups have. Sometimes the sound seemed over-bright, as if weighted too much towards the treble region; perhaps a lower pitch for some pieces would have helped. But this was the only jarring note in a concert that captured all the joy and grave dignity of this wonderful composer.