William Byrd: "Vigilate"
John Sheppard: "Lord's Prayer"
William Byrd: "Ecce Virgo Concipiet"
Hieronymus Praetorious: "Tota Pulchra Es"
There's nothing particularly funny about most 16th-century choral music, but the young members of the a cappella ensemble Stile Antico cracked themselves up the entire time they sound checked for this Tiny Desk Concert. A distinctive brand of humor bubbled up within this close-knit group — perhaps a side effect of the five-hour drive they had just made from North Carolina.
But when the cameras started rolling, they were all business — and it's no wonder they've been called "the jewel of English a cappella singing." You would think the strength of a dozen singers would blow away everyone in our small office space, but Stile Antico's music had the opposite effect. The pure, ethereal sound drew our audience in completely.
For hard-core fans, their selection of pieces was a delectable treat. They sang a sample from their new album Puer Natus Est. Then they took choral acrobatics to the next level with their last tune, "Tota pulchra es" by Praetorius, which weaves together 12 independent voices. It's not flashy, but it takes a seriously talented group to pull it off, and the deadly accuracy of the singers' interlocking lines gave me chills.
Stile Antico doesn't have a conductor. They rely on eye contact and the occasional nod of the head. And that's probably the best way to sing this music. There are so many unexpected entrances and subtle changes in all of the voices that a conductor might actually hinder the performance. Stile Antico's rich tapestry of sound unfolded so naturally that I was able to stop listening critically — not easy for a fellow chorister — and become transfixed by its beauty.