Friday, 28 May, 2021 at 7:30 pm
Beverley Early Music Festival
Beverley Minster, Beverley, United Kingdom
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Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition (2 June, 2009)
The Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon) is a biblical work of tremendously influential provenance. The Christian Church has made great use of it not only as a canticle of love between and man and a woman, but also of Christ and the Church and even the Virgin Mary. In the western church particularly this short book had enormous influence and was the subject of numerous settings of choral music of all types. Its vivid (and sometimes quite erotic) imagery, the beauty of the lines, and the direct emotional appeal make it ripe for composers interested in both the spiritual dimensions and the more grossly physical ones as well. Even in pre-Christian times the work was a treasure trove of ideas and commentaries for the ancient Hebrews.The new English choral group Stile Antico has been making big splashes with Harmonia mundi as of late, this being the third release, fortunately (and intelligently) available in SACD surround sound. These “youngsters” are a fabulous group with superbly graded ensemble skills, tonal luster, and a wonderfully blended style that raises them to the very top of similarly-constituted groups. The sound on this disc is expertly blended and beautifully dispersed among the channels, surely one of the finest examples of choral distribution on an SACD that I have come across.
The number of composers in the head note (along with the ever-prolific “Anonymous”) reflects a wide variety of styles and temperaments that seek to demonstrate the broad range of responses to the texts. Most of the texts set are literal, but there are a few which are based (sometimes quite loosely) on the canticles themselves, intended to mirror a certain element which the composer was fixated on. Curiously enough, most of these verses are the same ones; in others words, we do not find a vast array of representative sections of the Songs, but the same ones (with some variance) tend to appear over and over. There need be no mystery in this, as some of these verses stand out when considering the overall message of the biblical book, and some are quite frankly the most startlingly descriptive.
This is a beautifully conceived album of the highest quality of recording and performance (and notes too) that would also serve as a spectacular introduction to Renaissance choral art for all audiences. Don’t miss this one at any cost!