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April 8, 2013

Stile Antico gives early music a modern freshness

Boston Globe:

The presenter (the Boston Early Music Festival) and the program (a tour d’horizon of Renaissance choral music) might have indicated antiquity, but Stile Antico’s Friday concert was, in a way, a reminder that all concerts are new music concerts. Of course, even the oldest piece was new at some point, and performance is always an act of renewal, reintroducing music into the present. But Stile Antico, a 12-member British vocal ensemble, also exemplifies the way that the early-music movement itself is an artifact of the modern world, and how that movement has evolved its own versions of tradition and novelty.

Like modern-music performance practice, early music idealizes a combination of rarified specialization and free-ranging versatility. Stile Antico’s program traversed most of Europe and from the early 1500s to the early 1600s — and beyond. As if to honor the modern provenance of such ancient explorations, the group included a 21st-century piece, John McCabe’s “Woefully arrayed,” premiered by Stile Antico in 2009. The music is a contemporary amalgam, episodic illustrations of a 16th-century meditation on the sufferings of Jesus: harsh dissonance to disjunct lyricism to shimmering tonality. But the work’s demands were those common to early music and the avant-garde: clarity, virtuosity, and precision.

Stile Antico has a surfeit of such qualities. Its sound is an uncanny blend: Vowels were unerringly matched, and more than one interval was tuned with such exactitude that the overtones echoed as loud as the voices. Their meticulous ease illustrates how standard early-music vocal style — the straight-tone focus, the intimate austerity, individual lines arranged into burnished arcs — has become as much a vehicle as an interpretive end. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at April 8, 2013 12:00 AM