Stile Antico's 2015 release on Harmonia Mundi, A Wondrous Mystery, is a sublime collection of Renaissance choral music for Christmas, presented in a pleasant mix of familiar German carols and a mass, with tracks interspersed for the sake of variety. This makes sense in consideration of the group's broad audience, which may know such popular hymns as Michael Praetorius' Ein Kind geborn in Bethlehem and Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, or Johannes Eccard's Übers Gebirg Maria geht and Vom Himmel hoch, yet be somewhat at a loss with the motet and Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis by Jacobus Clemens non Papa, a composer beloved by early music specialists but not exactly a household name for lay listeners. However, the a cappella performances are consistently beautiful and soothing throughout, and the quietly joyous mood of the music fits the album's title perfectly. The 12-voice choir's blend is well-balanced and transparent, and the ambience of All Hallow's Church, Gospel Oak, London gives an ideal resonance for the group's small size and close miking.
This recording has a huge advantage over most of its rivals for the attention of Tallis listeners: the wonderful acoustics of Winchester Cathedral. In this magnificent space, the soaring lines and resplendent harmonies of Tallis's greatest masterpieces find sympathetic resonance, resulting in a heightened dramatic presence that takes the music beyond earthly confines. Of course, beyond the exceptional quality of the writing, credit must go to the phenomenal men and boys of Winchester Cathedral Choir. Where, even in England, does one find trebles who sing with more assuredness, musicality, and beauty of tone? With a repertoire including "In ieiunio et fletu," "Salvator mundi," "In manus tuas," "The Lamentations of Jeremiah," "O nata lux," and the unbelievable 40-part motet "Spem in alium," this is the Tallis disc to own if you're buying only one.