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Passion & Resurrection

The Boston Globe on Passion and Resurrection

David Weininger, The Boston Globe (23 December, 2012)

Sure, it’s still Christmas season, but you’ve got to be thinking ahead to the next big Christian holiday. It’s hard to imagine a better way to do so than with this superb collection of Easter and Holy Week music by Stile Antico, which now finds itself at the apex of early-music vocal groups. Central to this recording are a pair of settings of “Woefully arrayed,” an imagined reflection of Jesus on the cross. William Cornysh’s version, from around the turn of the 16th century, leads off, building from a somber opening to something close to affirmation. In the middle of the CD is John McCabe’s setting, written for Stile Antico in 2009. McCabe takes the Cornysh version as inspiration but produces biting, dissonant music that exists in a completely different rhetorical world. It’s the group’s first venture into contemporary music, and it’s brought off with the same level of insight and tonal richness that Stile Antico brings to centuries-old material.

Of that there is plenty here, including John Tavener’s elaborate setting of “Dum transisset” and Thomas Tallis’s “O sacrum convivium,” whose orderly exterior hides a wealth of pungent harmonies and dexterous word painting. Perhaps the most enjoyable works on “Passion and Resurrection” are the shortest and simplest: Orlando Gibbons’s “Hosanna to the son of David” and William Byrd’s “In Resurrectione tua.” A minor quibble is the church acoustic, the reverb of which threatens to swallow the immediacy of Stile Antico’s sound, one of the principal pleasures of this group. That aside, this is another strong entry in the annals of this immensely talented group.