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A Spanish Nativity

Excellent first review for A Spanish Nativity

Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press (October 10, 2019)

While still a bit ahead of the festive curve, it’s impossible to resist anything by British early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico. The thrice-Grammy-nominated group returns with A Spanish Nativity, a collection of works celebrating the Christmas season, with 12 a cappella pieces penned during the Spanish Golden Age of the 16th century.

The album’s centrepiece is Alonso Lobo’s Missa Beata Dei genitrix Maria, published in 1602 as a so-called “parody mass” with its thematic material based on a pre-existing motet by Lobo’s teacher, Francisco Guerrero. Each section of the mass is interspersed with motets by Victoria, Guerrero and Morales, as well as Mateo Flecha El Viejo’s Ensalada el Jubilate — literally, salad — which jumbles together different texts, dialects, nonsense syllables and mixed meters in a combustion of sound. The singers instil good-natured levity into this musical surprise, as well as later bringing to life the dance-like rhythms of the carol-like Vilancico Ríu ríu chíu, as they also do during Pedro Rimonte’s Villancico de la piel de sus ovejas, including smoothly overlapping entries.

Each of the Lobo works further showcases Stile Antico’s sublime artistry, the singers’ silken voices rising and falling like new-fallen snow from opening Kyrie through to the Agnus Dei, with its Gloria a joyous highlight as it draws to an emphatic close.