on March 14, 2010
That's all I have to say about the young, talented, and (so far) conductorless group. With their 4th album, devoted to renaissance composer John Sheppard's music, they have definitively established themselves as the equals of the Tallis Scholars, the Sixteen, or any other vocal ensemble dedicated to early music you care to name.
John Sheppard's work has been unfortunately neglected in the acapella vocal music repertoire. When it is performed, it is mostly his Latin cornucopia, such as "In pace," "Verbum Caro," and "Libera Nos". Fortunately for us, some of his English works, including those that can't be found elsewhere, are included in this recording, such as "Lord's Prayer" in a simple 5-part setting, and Christ Rising Again, which has resonance and harmonic strength. The anthem "I give you a new commandment" is similar to Tallis' "If Ye Love Me," though Sheppard's anthem has richer texture and more extensive use of counterpoint. The title piece, "Media Vita," has only been recorded by a world-class ensemble one other by time- the Tallis Scholars 20 years ago. Stile Antico's version is slower and more deliberate, which enhances the harmonic tension. Further, the Tallis Scholars' recording was very treble-heavy, whereas this version is more balanced. One other difference is that the Scholars' recording was based on an edition prepared by scholar David Wustan, whereas members of Stile Antico prepared their performing editions, which is pretty amazing.
Anyone who enjoys early choral music will enjoy "Media Vita." Particularly since it features recordings of pieces by a composer who is often neglected. The performances are excellent, bringing the color, tension, and strength of Sheppard's music to life. Though the music is clearly rich in texture, the importance of the individual lines is never lost. And did I mention that the acoustics are about as good as you can get in a recording? Highly recommended.
on March 19, 2010
If you like Thomas Tallis, you'll love John Sheppard. The music has that certain character that allows you to listen to it as deeply and attentively as you want, or you can just let it wash over you, even go to sleep by it. It invites your attention without demanding it. The more you give it, the more it will give you. But it will always leave you feeling spiritually refreshed.
This particular record is very nicely done on every level. Fine singing, fine acoustics, fine recording, thorough notes.
This is Stile Antco's fourth disc and it is possibly their loveliest to date, which is really saying something. Sheppard was active in England the first half of the 16th Century and this is a collection representing the different styles of his music during the colossal religious upheavals of the time. There are four small, relatively simple settings of English texts for Protestant worship and three large-scale settings of Latin texts for the Catholic liturgy, including the colossal, sublime Media Vita. It is wonderful music, full of the sonorities and ethereal high-treble sound of the Tudor period - very beautiful and truly affecting - and Stile Antico do it proud.
Their singing is outstanding with impeccable intonation, a lovely balance and blend of voices and wonderful fluency of line. They have a fine understanding of the relationship between text and music but never resort to intrusive rhetorical flourishes, making the whole performance a complete pleasure. I have owned and loved the Tallis Scholars magnificent performance of Media Vita for twenty years now, and I think this one compares extremely well. It is slower, at a lower pitch and with a more resonant acoustic, which makes the individual lines rather less distinct and doesn't give the real thrilling brilliance of the Tallis Scholars high treble part, but the overall sound is wonderfully rich and full and Stile Antico's performance has immense emotional power. I love it.
The other pieces on this disc were new to me and a revelation. They are fabulously beautiful and again wonderfully performed - particularly the Te Deum, which I thought was stunning. The recorded sound by Harmonia Mundi is excellent, the notes very good and the presentation is extremely attractive. It's a marvellous disc all round and very warmly recommended.
on February 14, 2010
Another gem from this wonderful group. And I use the word advisedly as the music on this CD reminds me of opening a jewel box and being taken aback with the glowing beauty of the pieces therein.
I wish Harmonia Mundi had chosen to include data on the recording itself, when, where, etc. I searched the liner notes and HM's website without success. To my ears at least the engineering hit the nail on the head with this recording. The acoustics of the hall and mike placement are perfect for this group and the dynamics come across as they should. I listened to one of their earlier discs and it seems to me the music in it sounds more two dimensional while this disc sounds fuller and the presence of the hall is right on.
on July 22, 2010
I have listened to many modern compositions lately. However, I bought this after a series of awful incidents in our family. The modern music left me hollow. I could not respond in any positive way to what I heard. What surprised me was that I found something in this CD that spoke of death and disaster not just in terms of horror. The Elizabethans could tell me that in spite of the awful matters we all have to face something about life is not only beautiful but also noble and worthwhile. 500 years away and on the other side of the globe something precious happened. This CD reflects this. As the other reviewers say the CD is very well done and a joy in itself. However, for me it also left me feeling better about myself and those around me. It is especially effective on long road trips at night.
on March 7, 2011
Having been very impressed with the British vocal group Stile Antico `s recording of "Music for Compline" on the Harmonia Mundi label, I eagerly purchased this recording of John Sheppard's Antiphons and Anthems that were composed in the 1500s for mixed chorus. I am still very impressed with Stile Antico because they perform Sheppard's music on this recording most beautifully producing gorgeous sounds with supreme intonation and nary a harsh sound. I just love this recording; it brought much solace to my soul.
I didn't think it could get much better than Song of Songs, but I'm happy to report that this group's recordings just keep getting better. Literally, Stile Antico means "ancient style," and is a term referring to a manner of composition which is historically-conscious. Their style and the recording itself seem very historically accurate - if you close your eyes, and you have good speakers, you can almost imagine that you're in an ancient cathedral listening to this music sung 500 years ago. This group rehearses and performs without a conductor, and it makes such a difference - you can tell how in sync the singers are with each other, timing their breaths, listening and tuning themselves to the group.
The 25 minute Media Vita ("In the midst of life, we are in death") is particularly magical.
- Heather Teysko, creator and producer of the Renaissance English History Podcast - find me on itunes.
on November 15, 2010
I am not a student of music, nor do I have any real interest in the religious significance of the music in this CD, but I like Choral music, as in Tallis Scholars and Sixteen. I came across John Sheppard (Libera Nos) in Music for Inner Peace, by The Sixteen, and found this CD through Amazon search. What a WONDERFUL collection of music. The twenty-five minute centerpiece of Media Vita is captivating, and the other songs, especially The Lords Prayer, are no less enjoyable. The musical tone, richness and clarity of this SACD are second to none, and lose very little when I play them on my iphone. I recommend it very highly.
on January 20, 2012
... and it's NOT the Tallis Scholars' twenty-year-old version.
Much is made of Stile Antico's lack of a conductor: this detail -- along with their relative youth (and because they're newcomers) -- likely has the most to do with the out-of-proportion attention they receive. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting down this group: they are definitely a very talented group of singers. They are not extraordinary, however. There's a "bandwagon" -- on which many critics have gleefully jumped -- that tends to overrate them. One might say they have entered "pop culture," based on overzealous media attention, and over-glorification is endemic to pop culture.
On the title track you may easily hear in a close comparison with The Sixteen the difference a conductor may make. Harry Christophers & The Sixteen released "Ceremony and Devotion: Music of the Tudors" -- which ALSO includes Sheppard's gorgeous "Media Vita" -- at exactly the same time as Stile Antico's release. But as it doesn't feature just Sheppard's music (it also has Byrd & Tallis), and it's poorly indexed on Amazon & other retailers, and The Sixteen are apparently "old hat," this release has been unfairly overlooked.
In regard to "Media Vita," The Sixteen's rendition is clearly superior. In comparison, Stile Antico sound somewhat bland*. The difference lies in the shaping of the musical lines, in the phrasing. Stile Antico sound a bit too passive -- and it's not due to a difference in tempo (the two version are, on average, quite close in that regard) -- it's in regard to expression. Stile Antico sound like they're all going about the business of performing a glorious piece of music, each member singing it well, BUT the sum total doesn't communicate as much as it could.
[*Only in comparison might you notice this. Their performance is still very good.]
It's unusual for a group the size of Stile Antico to go conductorless -- and while this sometimes yields advantages, there are definite drawbacks too. These drawbacks may be heard in comparison with how Harry Christophers' conducting shapes the musical material much more expressively, more vividly communicating the emotion of the words and of Sheppard's musical setting.
[Comparing the Tallis Scholars' version is a bit like comparing apples and oranges: it was recorded in 1989, so the sound quality isn't as good, and, in hindsight, they perform it a bit too fast. I haven't heard Paul McCreesh's fairly recent recording of it (Road to Paradise, 2007), but I understand it's even faster.]
on March 24, 2010
In a very short time Stile Antico has marked themselves out as something really special. If the Tallis Scholars have suggested to you that Renaissance music is sexless and dull, here is the antidote. Of their four CDs so far this is perhaps the best of all, not least because the repertoire is so magnificent and yet hardly known. One of the greatest choral recordings of all time.