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Fanfare Magazine: 37:3 (01-02/2014) 
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Harmonia Mundi

HMU 807572

Code-barres / Barcode: 0093046757267 (ID327)
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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal

“The Phoenix Rising” may not tell you much about the program, but its subtitle, “The Carnegie UK Trust & the revival of Tudor Church Music” should sufficiently explain matters for anyone interested in England’s second musical golden age. All the selections on this album derive from the original Tudor Church Music, Oxford University Press’s publication that appeared in 10 volumes between 1922 and 1929. As such, the phoenix is an appropriate symbol—for the resurgent music and reputations of its composers, and for its subsequent popularity in modern times with amateur choral societies and professional choirs, in both sacred and secular use. All but one of the pieces presented here has many current recordings to its credit—ArkivMusic lists 61 alone for Byrd’s Ave verum corpus, not allowing for duplications—a testament as well to what the TCM accomplished.

As I mentioned in reviews of both Passion and Resurrection (Fanfare 36:4) and Tune Thy Musicke to Thy Hart (35: 6), leaderless Stile Antico is an SATB ensemble of 12 youthful singers. Both J. F. Weber and myself have greatly praised their clarity across the parts, the imperturbable balance of their production (resulting in a typically “sweet” English choir tone), and their superb control of dynamics. I can think of a few versions of Ave verum corpus that bring more shifting emphasis to individual parts or point to specific cadences, and several that find more audible enthusiasm in Gibbons’s O clap your hands together, but none that get a sound at once so spacious yet lean—and that, despite having multiple voices per part. Stile Antico brings the encompassing strength of a medium-sized ensemble sound, without losing the intimacy and refinement of a small vocal ensemble.

One curiosity deserves to be noted. While it is relatively common these days to find Masses sung live and on albums with appropriate external movements interspersed among the Ordinary—Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices typically ends up with excerpts from the Gradualia— here we have the Kyrie and Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus/Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei sung in four bands that are separated not just by multiple motets from other composers but by two Anglican anthems. No matter; it works well musically.

If I had to single out one performance here to recommend for sampling, it would be Gibbons’s Almighty and everlasting God. Others of these pieces are more subtle in their charms, or more splendid in their effect, but the immediate beauty of the anthem, combined with the perfect tonal integration Stile Antico achieves, makes this an impossible performance to beat. Highly recommended.

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