Well, not literally… although I bet that a tree-trimming party with this young ensemble would be be a lot of fun. But this disc has been a frequent companion in the lead up to the holidays. It’s an excellent antidote to the treacly fare with which one often is assaulted when doing their Christmas shopping!
Puer Natus Est: Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
Harmonia Mundi SACD/CD
Stile Antico’s latest recording presents Christmas music by some of the great English choral composers from the Renaissance, during the reigns of the Tudors. Working without a conductor, this is a chamber choir in the true sense of the word. Yet whether they are performing plain chant or polyphony, it’s a group that is marvelously in sync. This sense of collaborative musicianship pays dividends, showing itself most clearly in their fluid sense of delivery and enviably creamy blend and tone.
The disc’s centerpiece is Thomas Tallis’ “Puer Natus Est” mass. It is interspersed with selections by William Byrd, John Sheppard, John Taverner, and Robert White.
Stile Antico does particularly wonderful things with the music of Byrd, as you can see below. (Since we ran their EPK in an earlier post, the group was kind enough to supply fresh video of “Tollite Portas.”) And their singing of the Tallis mass is truly marvelous. They manage to balance its often complexly arrayed contrapuntal passages, finding a through-line even when it is at its most dense. Tallis’ music also contains considerable chromaticism and many cross-relations. Stile Antico relishes each dissonance and savors their resolutions, clarifying the Mass’ overarching harmonic trajectory.
Though White may be less of a household name than some of the others on the disc, his Magnificat setting is a particularly felicitous inclusion. The work intersperses ambitiously ascendant passages of counterpoint with sections of plainchant. While it’s in a style that may be less intricate than Tallis’ mass, the Magnificat is, in its own way, its equal in terms of eloquence.
Puer Natus Est may consist of music for the Advent and Christmas seasons, but I have a feeling that many listeners will want to play it year ’round.