Unbelievably this was Stile Antrico’s only second concert at the Wigmore Hall. At least I should be glad that their importance and virtuosity is being acknowledged and supported by what’s purported to be the greatest venue for chamber music in Europe. They really need little introduction here, their fun, informative and pretty obscure baroque programming is well known. This performance was programmed around the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), so a lot of burning Catholic religious feeling was on show.
They performed with elan and a deep belief in the material, which is wonderful and at the same time thoroughly engaging. Stile Antico is a vocal group made up of vivacious young singers, for most of them this it’s a side project in addition to their careers in music tuition, conducting, opera. That doesn’t mean that Stile Antico is an under rehearsed troop that trades on its luck, quite the opposite it is a labour of love and they seem to enjoy every minute on stage.
Being a sold out Wigmore Hall concert, all the weird and wonderful regulars were there, the chap with the patchy red hair, a woman next to me with a bag full of her M&S breakfast essentials for the next morning (look out for the picture above), the odd grumpy wheelchair user and acres of beardy chaps with serious expressions. The clientèle is odd, the room looks a touch morbid but the atmosphere is always right and with a lovely acoustic. Also this time there was a sprinkling of teenagers that received free tickets through the Chamber Zone scheme. Hopefully this concert put them in the mood to return.
The concept of the evening was Victoria’s output and how he reused compositions by others for his own end. In a purely vocal concert without an orchestral accompaniment it becomes even more fascinating trying to find the points of reference between works and how he appropriated material. Also the now expected mini speeches between pairs of works was useful and humorous adding a bit of instruction in the mix is bizarrely welcome. Everything was as well sang as their reputation and awards will have you believe and the audience surely showed appreciation with loud bursts of unforced applause throughout. The two most intriguing pieces of the night were also the least religious, Janequin’s La Guerre with the sounds of battle and sound effects enriching the triumphant piece. If you can think of a renaissance beat box…you’d pretty close at how the galloping horses and fanfares come to life by the four choristers. The other was Palestrina’s Surge Propera, a very sensual motet based on the Song of Songs. And it possibly had the simplest and most effective turn of verse of the evening.
Surge Propera amica mea, et veni. Jam enim hiems transiit, imber abiit et recessit. Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra, tempus putationis advenit (Arise my love, and come away. For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers in our land; the time of pruning has come)
The excerpts from Victoria’s Messa Surge Propera were absolutely beautiful, a masterful example of antiphony, weaving meaning and melody into one unbroken whole.
The top it all off they sang Byrd’s Vigilante as an encore which is such a wonderful evocation of the time of judgement but with a bitter sweet edge to it. A personal favourite of mine since their Christmas concert at the Cadogan Hall last year. You can hear it in this NPR video through the magic of You Tube, enjoy! :
As you can tell from the above it was an absolute triumph of an evening and I am surely looking forward to the 2012-13 Byrd festival at the Wigmore where they will be involved with a series of concerts. The day after this performance they put up a special show for schools…I can only imagine the impact such a show would have had on them. Coming in contact with art from 500 years ago through the pure communication of the a cappella voice is truly uplifting and makes us all feel a bit more human for those two hours a show lasts.
Tweets from/ about the evening: