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Alex Ross on Stile Antico

Alex Ross, The New Yorker (10 August, 2009)

At HDtracks, I secured the recent Harmonia Mundi release “Song of Songs,” in which the British choral group Stile Antico sings Renaissance settings of the Songs of Solomon. Having admired the CD, I now had the equivalent of a studio master tape: twenty-four-bit audio sampled at a rate of eighty-eight thousand slices per second. The elegant entangling of voices seemed clearer, though I can’t say that the difference was staggering. The staggering thing is the music itself: an immaculately engineered recording of pure-voiced singers, bringing to life several of the loveliest compositions of the past thousand years. Clemens non Papa’s radiant motet “Ego Flos Campi”—“I am a flower of the field and a lily of the valley”—is around four hundred and sixty years old, and if Toscanini’s Wagner undermines our sense of the distance of the past Clemens obliterates it. Early on, the tenors extend the word “valley” in a string of eighth notes, a quickening of the line that leads to a more luxurious stasis. In whatever format, it is perhaps the most ravishing sound I have heard this year.