Stile Antico, an early-music vocal ensemble from England, made its Los Angeles debut on Wednesday for the Da Camera Society’s Chamber Music in Historic Sites series at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral downtown. Offering a generous program of Renaissance masterpieces, along with a stunning 21stcentury work by John McCabe, the group dramatically bridged the stile antico, or "old style," fashionable in Palestrina's day, with McCabe's modern style.
Though the phrase "old style" sounds disparaging to modern ears, the ensemble proved that though fashion goes out of style, an engaging style never goes out of fashion. Arranged in a semicircle, the six men and six women -- (incidentally, three of the singers are sisters, two of them twins) -- sang pieces from 15 composers with minimum vibrato and a consistently captivating vocal blend. The variety of tone and dynamics was also remarkable, given that Stile Antico work without a conductor.
The young ensemble got an early career boost by touring with Sting for his “Songs From the Labyrinth” album, and more recently it can be heard, albeit briefly, on the soundtrack of “The Hunger Games.” This is Stile Antico’s fourth American tour in 18 months, and it has a gorgeously produced Harmonia Mundi CD just out, “Tune Thy Musicke to Thy Hart.” The disc, an intimate, otherworldly collection of Tudor and Jacobean sacred music written for domestic devotion, features an unusual touch for this a cappella group: On several tracks, the singers are accompanied by the viol consort Fretwork.