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Music for Compline

Classics Today awards Music for Compline 10/10

David Vernier, Classics Today (1 May, 2007)

This outstanding release comes on the heels of another fine recording whose program just happens to concern the same subject: music for Compline, the last of the daily monastic worship services (“offices”) of the Catholic church. While that earlier disc from the Cambridge Singers should not be missed by any lover of English Renaissance choral music, this new one not only contains substantially different repertoire, but most importantly features absolutely ravishing performances by Stile Antico, one of Britain’s newest ensembles and certainly among the most promising vocal groups to come along in the last 20 years. These well-matched and perfectly tuned young voices are a joy to hear, and their singing style conveys a level of excitement in the rhythms and vibrancy in the harmonies that’s unusual to hear and rare to experience on a recording.

The repertoire includes some of the finest polyphonic works of the 16th century, such as Sheppard’s settings of Libera nos, In manus tuas, and In pace, Byrd’s Miserere mihi, Domine, Tallis’ own In pace and sublimely beautiful Miserere nostri. The nature of the Compline service calls for music and texts suitable for the hour before sleep, and each of the represented composers was a master of word setting and mood, perfectly capturing the essence of texts such as “Restore our bodies worn with toil/With the peace of the night”, or “Preserve us, Lord, as we keep our watch, and guard us as we sleep”, or “It is into your hands, Lord, that I entrust my spirit”, and placing them in an appropriate context for prayer and thanksgiving.

And these singers certainly know the essence and context of each of these 17 works, showing an impressive ensemble technique and sensitivity, whether to ensuring textural clarity in the dense, slow-moving Miserere of Tallis or attending to the details of phrasing and unison singing in the brief chant passages. The program selection and ordering also shows considerable thought and good musical sense. The sound is exemplary–warm yet vibrant, focused, and presented from an ideal listening perspective. This is an extraordinary recording: In its debut on Harmonia Mundi Stile Antico has given choral music lovers everywhere a reason to celebrate what looks like the beginning of another beautiful relationship!