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BBC Music Magazine reviews Song of Songs

Anthony Pryer, BBC Music Magazine (May 2009)

Song of Songs is the most erotically charged book in the Bible, and these motets and plainsongs from the Renaissance all draw upon its lascivious verses. Moreover, the superb singers of Stile Antico are up to the challenge of presenting all the required moods from pious restraint (Palestrina thought that all that sex was really about God’s love for the church) to melting abandon (listen to ‘tibi dabo ubera mea’ – to you I will give my breasts – from Gombert’s Quam pulchra es). Moreover, although some of these works are famously great (Victoria’s Vadam et circuibo, and Ego flos by Clemens non papa), Hortus conclusus by the obscure Rodrigo de Ceballos is right up there, and so is the lithe and supple plainsong Alleluia Tota pulchra es, brilliantly sung by women’s voices. The sound on this recording is excellent and so is the tuning. One slight reservation is the occasional harsh edge to the timbre (as in Guerrero’s Surge propera) caused, it seems, by too much of the sound being squeezed from the throat rather than being supported by the diaphragm. But geeky technicalities aside, this remains a magnificent display of the very best kind of polyphonic music.