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The Boston Globe

Music

Music Review

Stile Antico gives early music a modern freshness

CAMBRIDGE — The presenter (the Boston Early Music Festival) and the program (a tour d’horizon of Renaissance choral music) might have indicated antiquity, but Stile Antico’s Friday concert was, in a way, a reminder that all concerts are new music concerts. Of course, even the oldest piece was new at some point, and performance is always an act of renewal, reintroducing music into the present. But Stile Antico, a 12-member British vocal ensemble, also exemplifies the way that the early-music movement itself is an artifact of the modern world, and how that movement has evolved its own versions of tradition and novelty.

Like modern-music performance practice, early music idealizes a combination of rarified specialization and free-ranging versatility. Stile Antico’s program traversed most of Europe and from the early 1500s to the early 1600s — and beyond. As if to honor the modern provenance of such ancient explorations, the group included a 21st-century piece, John McCabe’s “Woefully arrayed,” premiered by Stile Antico in 2009. The music is a contemporary amalgam, episodic illustrations of a 16th-century meditation on the sufferings of Jesus: harsh dissonance to disjunct lyricism to shimmering tonality. But the work’s demands were those common to early music and the avant-garde: clarity, virtuosity, and precision.

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