Frank Stewart/courtesy of Savannah Music Festival
Members of Stile Antico at the Savannah Music Festival 2011.
Members of Stile Antico at the Savannah Music Festival 2011. Frank Stewart/courtesy of Savannah Music Festival
Jacob Clemens non Papa: Ego flos campi
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Osculetur me
Plainchant: Dum esset Rex
Orlande de Lassus: Veni in hortum meum
Nicolas Gombert: Quam pulchra es
Plainchant: Alleluia. Tota pulchra es
Francisco Guerrero: Ego flos campi
Tomás Luis de Victoria: Vadam et circuibo
Lassus: Veni, dilecte mi
Palestrina: Nigra sum
Plainchant: Laeva eius
Jean Lhéritier: Nigra sum
Rodrigo de Ceballos: Hortus conclusus
Plainchant: Speciosa facta es
Sebastián de Vivanco: Veni, dilecte mi
Francisco Guerrero: Trahe me post te
Plainchant: Iam hiems transiit
Hieronymus Praetorius: Tota pulchra es
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine..."
So begins one of the most beguiling — and perplexing — books in the Bible, the Song of Songs. Within the sumptuous poetry lies a mystery: Where does erotic longing end and spirituality begin? Is this book a complex religious allegory, or is it a celebration of a more earthly kind of love?
That question is at the crux of this beguiling concert by Stile Antico, the superb group of 12 singers from England who combine phenomenal musicianship with a supple and almost improvisatory approach to performance. They are a conductorless ensemble, and the singers listen and respond to each other in performance from a very deep place, as you'll hear in this sublime concert.
Ever-attentive to matters of text, structure and meaning, these singers — all of whom studied and sang at either Oxford or Cambridge — have created a program that beautifully demonstrates the essential question of the Song of Songs. They note that this book of the Bible was a particularly popular source for 16th century composers, and each composer chose to address the text differently. In some instances, as in Nicolas Gombert's Quam pulchra es from 1539, the music suffuses the texts with an urgent and overtly religious fervor. In other cases, the earthy, alluring heat of a madrigal — an entirely secular love song — resonates just beneath the music's surface of piety. An example of the latter is Hieronymous Praetorius' texturally extravagant Tota pulchra es, which was published in 1618 and features the dozen voices spread across three distinct choirs singing closely knitted counterpoint.
Despite the rich details, this Stile Antico concert is one of those performances in which you can leave the scholarship aside and just float in an ocean of unearthly sound.