Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Youthful Old School
Music for Compline
Choral music of Tallis, Byrd, Sheppard, Aston and White
Harmonia Mundi, HMU907419
Stile antico is a group of young British singers specializing in Renaissance and early baroque repertoire. I don't remember how I learned of them, though I suspect I heard a profile of the group on NPR (which is credited for launching this present CD to No. 1 in an instant). But however I heard of them, I made a mental note to look for their CD when I next found my way into a good music store. But with classical music pretty much gone from the big stores I run across in the course of my work week, I eventually caved in and downloaded the CD from iTunes.
And what a debut disc. They have chosen from a rich catalog of English Tudor heavy hitters, with 17 tracks of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, John Sheppard and Robert White.
One can't help feeling a giddy sense of accomplishment for these dozen young men and women, who have put their heads together and come up with a life-changing plan. Certainly they have excellent role models to follow, with London being the home of numerous choirs and top-shelf vocal ensembles and the schools which produce them: the Hilliard Ensemble, Pro Cantione Antiqua, Polyphony, Oxford Camerata, the Monteverdi Choir and the Tallis Scholars come immediately to mind, and there are amazing school and church choirs everywhere. It says something fabulous about London that a new group can arise in 2007 in the midst of so much existing and established talent.
All the members of stile antico are actively engaged in study, or have recently embarked upon professional careers as singers and instrumentalists, performing in concerts and ensembles and in movie sountracks. There must be a certain critical mass wherein a cultural element like this becomes self-sustaining, as one could not make a living in this way except in a few special places. I would give my eye teeth to belong to such an ensemble (wanting only for talent and youth and expertise and geography; baby steps).
Stile antico sound on this recording as though they've been singing together for years, which is even more impressive in that they work without a conductor. They approach individual pieces as chamber musicians with everyone offering their input, yet manage to produce a highly polished product. They handle the material with professional confidence, and their blend and intonation are beyond reproach. If you don't like this recording, you're not going to like the material no matter who performs it.
The recording is first-rate, though one of the casualties of the iTunes purchase is information about where the disc was recorded (this is not a priority for most people, I know, but it's something I like to know, along with the producer and engineer, and the recording equipment). But the recording itself is where the rubber meets the road, and this one is a rare treat.