In a Strange Land - Elizabethan Composers in Exile (CD)

Harmonia Mundi
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Stile Antico

The regime of Queen Elizabeth I dealt harshly with supporters of the old Catholic religion. Torn between obedience and conscience, some of England’s most talented musicians - Philips, Dering and Dowland - chose a life of exile abroad. Others chose to remain in spiritual isolation in England, comparing themselves to the exiled Israelites in Babylon.

Amongst them were Robert White, whose five-part Lamentations are one of the glories of English music of any age, and William Byrd, whose anguished Catholic music is referenced in Shakespeare’s enigmatic poem The Phoenix and the Turtle, vividly set by Huw Watkins especially for Stile Antico.

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Gramophone Magazine

"Stile Antico, as ever, excel in plangency…[in Byrd’s Quomodo cantabimus they] allow the texture to unfold with a gentle flow in what is some superb singing but I long for a more treble-dominated balance for such pointed texts. They find this is Huw Watkins’s setting of Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle. Here, especially towards the end, they employ the sort of energy I would love to hear them bring to Byrd."

Sunday Times

"The dozen voices of Stile Antico give achingly expressive performances of Elizabethan masterpieces, all informed by their composers’ Catholicism, steadfastly maintained under a Protestant regime."

The Observer

"In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile (Harmonia Mundi) is the latest collection, released with unerring timeliness, from Stile Antico, the 12-strong ensemble whose name signals tonal purity, precision and musical intelligence. The theme is spiritual and political disjuncture"

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The Classical Music Collector:

Being a Catholic under Elizabeth I was precarious, and many composers of the faith went into voluntary exile in Europe, or stayed and lived in isolation and danger. Stile Antico have established themselves among the preeminent performers of 16th century music, mainly a cappella, and this new release contains some of the greatest and most deeply expressive music of the time, drawing on the composers’ anxieties, and framed in the language of melancholy. It would be hard not to be moved by this release, especially as we watch England repudiate Europe yet again. A short but charming modern setting of Shakespeare by Huw Watkins completes the program.

- Chris Dench