Listen Magazine reviews Tune thy Musicke
David Vernier, Listen Magazine (April 2012)
The British vocal ensemble Stile Antico is young in age and accordingly fresh in its approach to programming, a trend exemplified in this latest release of works from sixteenth- and seventeenth- century England. Here the group focuses on the lesser-known but fertile repertoire of sacred music whose purpose was “private or domestic devotion” – that is, for types of worship outside the formal church setting. While the composers’ names are certainly familiar, the music tends to be texturally simpler and more straightforward than we usually hear in their finest church works.
Certainly “simpler” should not be taken for less interesting, involving or exciting. Listen to Tomkins’ “0 praise the Lord” or John Amner’s verse anthem “0 ye little flock” or Orlando Gibbons’ own verse anthem “See, see, the Word is incarnate” and try to remain unmoved by their sheer beauty and fullness of expression. Exceptions to simple can be found in the melodic turns and dramatic devices ofJohn Browne’s remarkable carol “Jesu, mercy, how may this be?” or in the striking harmonic richness of Robert Ramsey’s “How are the mighty fall’n” and in Amner’s “A stranger here:’ And there’s no more perfect depiction of words in music than Thomas Tomkins’ unsurpassed setting of “When David heard:’
As an ensemble, the conductorless twelve-member Stile Antico prefers a sound that celebrates the fact that it’s made of individual voices, and thus allows us to hear inside the group – an approach that quite possibly more closely represents the kind of sound that the sixteenth-century singers would have produced in their homes and private chapels.The participation of the superb viol consort Fretwork on six of the fifteen tracks enhances the program’s musical authenticity and adds yet another layer of vibrant color.