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Stile Antico Sings More Sheppard

available at Amazon
Sheppard, Media Vita (inter alia),
Stile Antico

(released on February 9, 2010)
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807509

Online scores:
Selected works by John Sheppard
When the young British choral group Stile Antico made their recording debut with Harmonia Mundi, it was with a disc of motets by the two acknowledged masters of English Renaissance polyphony, Tallis and Bird, plus a few selections by Sheppard. They went back for more Byrd and Tallis in their 2008 disc, Heavenly Harmonies, and although I have yet to hear their 2009 release, a collection of motets on texts from Song of Songs by Palestrina, Guerrero, Gombert, Victoria and Lassus, it received lots of awards and critical accolades. The group's latest release returns to the third composer on the debut CD, a composer less known but no less worth knowing. John Sheppard (c. 1515-1558) was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal at roughly the same time as Tallis, but Sheppard's choral music was never published, circulating in a very limited way in manuscript form. As a result, eventually choirs no longer performed Sheppard's music as Anglican music evolved in style. Even attempts to revive his music in the 20th century ran up against incomplete and confusing sources that made scholarly reconstruction difficult.

Although two competing collected works editions were published, Stile Antico has instead prepared its own performing editions. The overall sound is in keeping with the group's recordings so far, impeccable intonation (startling in the many cross-relations) and blend (the tendency of a bass or two to growl at the bottom of large textures less noticeable here) and especially a clarity of the soprano lines, which are often suspended far above the more densely packed lower lines. The plainchant, remaining more commonly in alternatim arrangement with polyphonic sections in the Sarum use, is performed with somewhat greater vitality in this disc (better in Gaude gaude gaude Maria than in the somewhat overly solemn Te Deum). For Lenten listening one could hardly do better than Sheppard's monumental but austere setting of the Lenten antiphon Media vita (also found in the Office for the Dead, not least in the English translation of the Book of Common Prayer), an immense, complex polyphonic wrapping for the simple chanting of the Nunc dimittis (the three verses, unusual for an antiphon, found here in the version associated only with Sarum books).

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Aren't they wonderful? You can hear their Song of Songs programme live at Cadogan Hall (2010 Proms) on BBC R3's listen again service if you follow the link from Monday 23 Aug @ 1300h (GMT). Otherwise, the concert will be repeated on 28 August.