Classical review: Encantar and Romina Lischka, Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh

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JUST four voices and a single viol; a limited palette of music from Renaissance Spain. With such small-scale forces and restricted repertoire, who would have expected such a rich and varied concert? Young Belgian all-female vocal quartet Encantar’s bewitching take on this sumptuous music was actually pretty radical.

Encantar and Romina Lischka

Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh

Star review: * * * *

For a start, the four singers were appropriating religious pieces usually written for men – and polyphonic Renaissance glories by such towering figures as Victoria and Guerrero at that. The intense music of Morales’s Missa “L’homme armé” provided a striking framework.

More than that, they contrasted this ecclesiastical music with what often seemed like Renaissance Spanish pop songs – catchy tunes (sometimes festive, sometimes not – they thankfully didn’t overplay the Christmas connections) taken from a 1556 songbook, sung with wit and accompanied by thudding drum and rattling tambourine.

The singers made full use of the Canongate Kirk, processing around or taking up positions in the middle of the audience. It was all very simple, but highly effective – and it meant there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

It was easy to be beguiled by the sheer beauty of Encantar’s sound. They had a remarkable unity of tone, pure and rounded yet unadorned by operatic vibrato, and one from which individual voices could suddenly harden to stand out from the gently rippling tapestry.

It could have been a bit treble-heavy, but Romina Lischka, a young Austrian player of the viola da gamba, a kind of forerunner of the cello, provided some nimble basslines.