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The Phoenix Rising

High praise from the New Zealand Herald

William Dart, New Zealand Herald (17 August, 2013)

Byrd’s Kyrie eleison almost steals into the consciousness, such is the beguiling weave of voices. The cover of Stile Antico’s tribute to the glories of Tudor music will catch your eye – a late 15th century image of the legendary phoenix by Italian artist Antonio Grifo; that achieved, the disc should have little trouble captivating your ear.

Over the past decade, this English chamber choir have established themselves as one of the leading exponents of Renaissance repertoire. Not that these singers have sequestered themselves in chapels and cathedrals – they were also on hand when Sting took to the music of John Dowland. Stile Antico have toured internationally as far as Australia, enchanting some of their greatest fans. American critic Alex Ross commented that the group had provided him with the most ravishing sound of 2009.

The Phoenix Rising is a centenary celebration, marking 100 years of generous sponsorship from the Carnegie UK Trust. Not only is there Carnegie money behind this recording, but it was this institution, back in the 1920s, that funded the modern-day publishing of the music being sung – the 10-volume set of Tudor Church Music.

William Byrd’s magisterial Mass for Five Voices threads through the album’s 14 tracks, providing a framework for various motets and settings by other composers. Byrd’s Kyrie eleison almost steals into the consciousness, such is the beguiling weave of voices; the Gloria has no fear of ecstatic jubilation and the final Agnus Dei invokes serenity with vocal velvet.

If Byrd provides the core of this choral constellation, then around it are equally impressive stars, some familiar, some not. The “old school” of Thomas Tallis and John Taverner is marked by piquant harmonic clashes and, in the case of Taverner’s O splendor gloriae, spare textures that hearken back to a medieval past.

Orlando Gibbons’ O Clap Your Hands Together is such a merry dance that one almost expects a fa-la-la chorus. Like the rest of the music, it benefits from the spacious acoustics of Hampstead’s St Jude-on-the-Hill. Harry Potter aficionados will know the church from the final instalments of that tedious franchise, but even if you don’t see the Edwin Lutyens building on this CD, the music is so much better.