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At the heart of the religious disputes which ravaged 16th century England, Tallis and Byrd embody two opposing tendencies: the former's austere, homophonic Protestant psalm tunes, in which the clarity of the biblical texts was paramount, contrast with the latter's Catholic motets, which constantly heighten musical expressivity and emotiveness.Yet, far from being stifled by the rigour of one camp or the traditionalism of the other, the creativity of these two masters of English music thrived on such constraints as they dedicated themselves to the service of their art and of God. New performing edition by Stile Antico.
Working without a conductor, the members of Stile Antico rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing artistically to the musical result.Their repertoire ranges from the glorious legacy of the English Tudor composers to the works of the Flemish and Spanish schools and the music of the early Baroque. They are passionate about the need to communicate with their audiences, combining thoughtful programming with direct, expressive performances.They are also committed to developing their educational work, for which they have received generous funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
“The most striking feature of these performances is how wonderfully varied they are. In some pieces… the presentational style almost enters the realm of musical theatre, while in Tallis's God Grant with Grace the utterly still and simple display of the music is transporting.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2008 ****
“Stile Antico perform without a director, and the use of choral effects (gradual build-ups of intensity, or the opposite) doesn't seem overly staged. They certainly make a confident noise, helped by a sound recording that brings out the natural bloom of their sound. ” Gramophone Magazine, June 2008
“wonderful music and singing of considerable distinction” International Record Review
“The young singers of Stile Antico, in their second disc of Tudor music, are magnificent... glorious music, gloriously sung.” Sunday Times Classical CD of the Week
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Byrd Edition Volume 5 - The Masses
These intimate, dark, mystical settings are creations of great feeling, expressing the sorrow of deprivation. All three masses reach an intensity rarely equalled in Renaissance times, and culminating in Agnus Dei settings which are among the most poignantly beautiful in all music. These will remain definitive performances for many years to come. Each mass in preceded by an organ Fantasia. Suprisingly there is only one other modern issue currently to present all three masses on a single CD.
“The singing is technically polished, the tuning faultless and the overall sonority rounded and rich.” Choir & Organ
“This is incomparable music by one of the great est English composers and it was high time for someone to take a fresh look at these works in the light of more recent research and of changing attitudes to performance practice.
Byrd had composed his three settings of the Ordinary of the Mass in troubled times for the small recusant Catholic community that still remained in England in spite of persecution.
The settings would have been sung, in all probability, during festive, albeit furtive, celebrations of the old time-honoured Roman liturgy, in private chapels in the depths of the country, at places such as Ingatestone, the seat of Byrd's principal patron, Sir John Petre. Andrew Carwood has recorded them in the Fitzalan Chapel of Arundel Castle, a small but lofty building with a clear resonance that enables the inner voices of the part-writing to come through straight and clean. It hasn't the aura of King's College Chapel, but is probably easier to manage than, say, Winchester Cathedral or Merton College Chapel.
Carwood uses two voices to a part in all three Masses. In comparison with rival recordings he's alone in selecting high voices for the three-part Mass, transposed up a minor third, which introduces a note of surprising lightness and grace. He, too, is alone in taking the initiative of using an allmale choir for the four-part Mass – alto, tenor, baritone, bass. This close, low texture, together with the transposition down an augmented fourth, adds a fitting sense of gravity to the performance.
In particular, it heightens the poignancy of such passages as the 'dona nobis pacem' in the AgnusDei, with its series of suspensions in the drooping phrases leading to the final cadence.
That dimension of understanding is precisely what this recording by The Cardinall's Musick so keenly demonstrates. Theirs is a simplicity of style that belies simplistic criticism. Vibrato is used sparingly: 40 years on, some listeners might consider its constant use by a King's Choir of the late 1950s almost too overpowering. Carwood chooses his tempos with care, avoiding the modern tendency to speed everything up inordinately.
The interesting historical note on the whole background is a good pointer to what the listener may experience as the music unfolds.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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