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Heavenly Harmonies

BBC Music Magazine on Heavenly Harmonies

Anthony Pryer, BBC Music Magazine (March 2008)

Three years ago these enterprising singers were prizewinners in the Early Music Network International Young Artists Competition. From their latest recording, it is easy to see why. Stile Antico’s disc displays an ingeniously programmed alternation of exquisitely simple psalm settings by Tallis alongside some of the most brilliantly and richly polyphonic works by Byrd.

The most striking feature of these performances is how wonderfully varied they are. In some pieces – Byrd’s Vigilate for example, with its imitation of a cock crowing in the middle of the night – the presentational style almost enters the realm of musical theatre, while in Tallis’ God Grant with Grace the utterly still and simple display of the music is transporting. The long unfolding of Byrd’s Infelix ego (16 minutes) has caused more experienced groups to founder, but here the shaping could not be more alert and convincing. There are one or two minor blemishes of tuning (the slightly flat lower voices on track 1); and in the very exposed moments of imitation(as in Ne irascaris, for example) it doesn’t help if one voice is employing prominent vibrato and another not. But in their overall sense of form and local nuance this group has something that so many other ensembles noticeably lack.