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The Phoenix Rising

Sinfini Music awards five stars to The Phoenix Rising

Andrew Stewart, Sinfini Music (1 August, 2013)

Whether you judge Andrew Carnegie as a titan of capitalism, a robber baron or a great philanthropist will depend on your political viewpoint. It would be reasonable to see the man, born to poverty in Dunfermline in the 1830s, as all three and more. To mark the centenary year of the charitable organisation that bears Carnegie’s name, Stile Antico turn to the contents of Tudor Church Music (TCM), a landmark series of ten volumes published in the 1920s with funding from the Carnegie UK Trust. Britain’s underserved reputation as the ‘land without music’ changed forever with the phoenix-like appearance of TCM.

Stile Antico is on top of its game here. They open with two TCM treasures, Byrd’s Ave verum and Tallis’s Salvator mundi (I), and build a compelling programme around the movements of Byrd’s Mass for five voices. There’s a rare spaciousness about the conductorless vocal ensemble’s singing, aided by the acoustics of St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb and terrific recorded sound. But the effect arises chiefly from the mysterious power of Tudor polyphony to elongate clock time and Stile Antico’s corporate empathy for it. If that sounds strange, listen to the subtle shifts of rhythmic energy they bring to the Credo of Byrd’s Mass and Tallis’s In ieuno et fletu, pieces easily (and often) ruined by a metronomic ‘beat’. Taverner’s aptly named O splendor gloriae stands as this sublime album’s crowning jewel, a pristine object for still contemplation. Switch off all mobile devices, shut out distractions and simply be with the experience of listening.