> Choral and Song
Stile Antico: "Tune Thy Musicke to Thy Hart"
Tudor and Jacobean music for private devotion. Tomkins, Campion, Byrd, Tallis, Dowland, Gibbons. Fretwork. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi HMU 807554
In sixteenth-century England, sacred and secular music met in the private home, where performances of part-songs and madrigals expressing religious devotion were a feature of the educated middle-class. This melding of musical worlds continued into the seventeenth century, with pieces ranging in complexity from the straightforward chorale setting of Thomas Campion's "Never weather-beaten sail" to the challenging twelve-part polyphony of Thomas Tomkins's "O praise the Lord." The latter is a natural opener for the superb twelve-voice a cappella group Stile Antico. Stile Antico takes a chamber-music approach, working without a conductor, and they seem to breathe and sing as one. Their unity of tone — pure with just a hint of vibrato release — and sympathetically felt dynamics are exceptional. In Robert Ramsey's "How are the mighty fall'n," they dial down to a thoughtful communal hush, while in John Amner's "A Stranger Here," they sneak in the weird but descriptive digressions without comment, allowing the dissonances to catch the listener unaware. Benedict Hymas contributes a melting tenor solo in Byrd's epitaph for a Catholic martyr, "Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?" Stile Antico is accompanied on several tracks by the viol consort Fretwork, which also peppers the recording with instrumental devotions based on Taverner's "In nomine domini." As lovely as these collaborations are, the singers shine most brightly a cappella, as in Dowland's extrovertedly mournful "I shame at my unworthiness" and John Browne's shifting, multi-layered "Jesu, mercy, how may this be?"
JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER
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