Thursday, May 1, 2008
More Youthful Splendor
Harmonia Mundi, HMU807463
Music of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd
This is the second release by young British vocal group stile antico. Their first, 2007's Music for Compline, heralded the arrival of a spectacular group of young singers specializing in the great choral works from England's Tudor period.
This present effort builds on every success of that first thrilling release, contrasting the simple hymn tune settings of Thomas Tallis with the more elaborate contrapuntal essays of William Byrd. It's an excellent contrast, though I find I'm especially taken with these very direct tunes of Tallis. Like Bach's fantastic harmonization of the Lutheran hymns with which he worked daily, there's a sense here of Tallis reaching out across hundreds of years, bridging time and style and circumstance to make an eternal musical statement. The Byrd is lovely too, of course--and as flawlessly presented--but his manner is a bit more ornate and, like the floridness of Shakespeare's language to our modern ear, takes a bit more acclimation. This is meant as no criticism, and the toggling between the two styles seems most effective.
The group seems a bit more closely recorded on this CD. The room is there, but in a supporting role. The benefit is that of being able to hear the individual voices--the singers sound almost as though they were collected in your music room for a private concert; but this intimacy comes at the cost of a touch of mystery and atmosphere. But in the Tallis especially a chamber sound seems very appropriate.
As with Music for Compline, I cannot but note how beautifully these young men and women blend together, and how mature and searching their interpretations are. In that they work without the guiding vision of a conductor, this sense of unity seems even more impressive.
I look eagerly forward to their next offering.