St Mary’s Warwick
For a poem which has done so much to shape our vision of – and fear of – hell down the centuries since its appearance, Dante’s Divine Comedy uses some of the most exquisite language and breathtaking invention ever put on paper.
This odd juxtaposition of terrifying subject and terrific art has also tempted countless painters and, as is evidenced in this absolutely sublime programmed selection from Stile Antico, musicians have not allowed themselves to be left out.
In the hands of composers writing in the golden era of choral polyphony, hell is a stunning place and desperate appeals to the almighty to protect us from it can be as beautiful and moving as you like.
This programme relocates Dante’s work from its appearance in the 1300s forward by some 250 years to the time of a host of fabulous composers producing sumptuous settings of prayer and liturgy inspired by the journey from inferno to heaven.
In a pleasingly slick sequence we hear from such choral luminaries as Palestrina, Morales and Merulo all offering towering harmonies and intricate interweavings.
This music is strong ground indeed for an ensemble as talented as Stile Antico and the singing is simply transcendent throughout. This is music perfectly at home in St Mary’s and its supportive acoustic.
From the Nicolas Gombert setting which gets proceedings under way to the final triumphant, uncharacteristically buoyant triple choir canticle by Victoria which brings it to a close, there is not a misplaced tone in the entire programme.
Stile Antico have many fine recordings to their name and if they chose to add this they should consider retaining the brief excerpts read by the singers from Dante’s verse which remind us so eloquently of the purpose of this journey and its ability to uplift us far beyond worldly concerns.