An exquisitely performed and beautifully planned disc of Tudor music from the ever brilliant Stile Antico is a go-to Christmas disc
Composer: Tallis, Sheppard, White
Repertoire: Puer natus est
Artists: Stile Antico
Label: Harmonia Mundi HMU 807517 (SACD)
The Music History’s haze has obscured the origin of Tallis’s Mass Puer natus est nobis. It might have been performed by Mary Tudor’s Chapel Royal during Christmas 1554 or written as a university degree exercise. Whatever the case, it stands as a masterwork of Tudor sacred music and supplies the backbone of Stile Antico’s irresistible seasonal programme. Other treasures here include Robert White’s expansive, virtuosic Magnificat and Sheppard’s coruscatingly beautiful Verbum caro.
The Performance Conductorless Stile Antico may be, but they could never be accused of lacking direction or clear-sighted commitment to the works on this generously filled album. Individual members of the group, 14-strong in several pieces here, bear full responsibility for their work and for sticking limpet-like to the basic pulse and occasional fluctuations from it. The approach encourages long-range thinking about the music, inviting the ear to contemplate soaring architecture rather than surface detail.
The Verdict Repeated hearings have done nothing to shorten the depth or diminish the intensity of first impressions left by Stile Antico’s work here. Puer natus est is for life, not just for Christmas!
Want more? Try Stile Antico’s anthology of works for the service of Compline, named for Sheppard’s monumental antiphon Media vita on Harmonia Mundi (HMU 807509).