Song of Songs/Stile Antico

“Sensuous polyphony from the courts of Renaissance Europe”

Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c1510-c1555/6)
Ego flos campi
Song of Songs verse 2: 1-2; 4: 15
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-94)
Osculetur me
Song of Songs 1: 2-3
Dum esset rex
Song of Songs 1: 12
Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560)
Quam pulchra es
Adapted from Song of Songs 7: 6-7, 5, 4, 11-12
Orlande de Lassus (c1532-1594)
Veni, dilecte mi
Song of Songs 7: 11-12
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611)
Vadam et circuibo civitatem
Song of Songs 3: 2; 5: 8-10; 7: 8
Speciosa facta es
Francisco Guerrero (1528-99)
Ego flos campi
Song of Songs 2: 1-5
Rodrigo de Ceballos (c1525-1581)
Hortus conclusus
Song of Songs 4: 12; 5: 2; 2: 14; 4: 11; 4: 8
Alleluia. Tota pulchra es
Adapted from Song of Songs 4: 7
Sebastián de Vivanco (c1551-1622)
Veni, dilecte mi
Song of Songs 7: 11-13
Praetorius (1571-1621)
Tota pulchra es
Song of Songs 4: 7; 11, 2: 12-13

Stile Antico [Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey & Alison Hill (sopranos); Emma Ashby, Eleanor Harries & Carris Jones (altos); Jim Clements, Andrew Griffiths & Benedict Hymas (tenors); Will Dawes, Oliver Hunt & Matthew O’Donovan (bass)]

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 23 August, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

The award-winning vocal ensemble Stile Antico (literally ‘ancient style’) entranced a crowded Cadogan Hall with extracts from “The Song of Songs” (sometimes entitled “Songs of Solomon” or “Canticles”), the shortest Book in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Essentially a poem about love, its explicit phrases and erotic imagery providing an excellent platform for the members of Stile Antico to demonstrate their very considerable talents – sensuous it was, in abundance.

This conductor-less choir (an end, not a means to an end, as Oliver Hunt and his wife, Carris Jones, explained, enabling the group to project the thoughts of each singer rather than just of one person) comprises three sisters and a married couple, preferring to arrange themselves so that eye-contact can be maintained, leading to frequent choreographed changes of position as dictated by the various pieces.

Furthermore the democratic nature of the choir is maintained with individual members taking turns at rehearsals to listen to the performance and comment as necessary. Even the indisposition of Matthew O’Donovan half-way through the setting by Victoria would probably have passed unnoticed by those listening on BBC Radio 3, had Louise Fryer not pointed it out at the end. Will Dawes covered for him until a member of the audience (resplendent in jeans and blue-check shirt and presumably known to the choir) stepped up to the mark for the Praetorius.

There was no doubting the excellence of the performances, bringing out the beauty and contrasting styles of the various 16th-century composers, and reflecting the different approaches of the Northern Europeans from their Mediterranean cousins. For an encore the choir performed William Byrd’s “Miserere mihi”.

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