William Byrd Second Service & Consort Anthems Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

...one of 2007's most interesting [releases]...

Andrew Mellor 2007

Following its Harmonia Mundi recordings of music by Orlando Gibbons and Christopher Tye, the choir of Magdalen College Oxford under Bill Ives here turns to William Byrd, whose anthems in English often languish in the shadows of those in Latin. As a catholic, Byrd himself might have preferred it that way; his church music in Latin does seem to 'open a window on his soul'. But Elizabethan England provided plenty an opportunity for the provision of sacred music in English as doctrinal guidelines were chopped, changed, manipulated and ignored.

The icing on a cake rich with attractive examples of Byrd’s English work is the inclusion of viol consort, Fretwork, which accompanies beautifully throughout with curvaceous, yearning phrasing. This disc is at its best when the six-strong Fretwork is accompanying a single voice.

Of those there are two major soloists: on-loan from the Hilliard Ensemble is Rogers Covey-Crump, who sings with impeccable shape and diction, and Magdalen's own Stefan Roberts, who seems astoundingly musically aware for his age but whose voice seems to be beating him to adulthood ('treble' might well be stretching it). Nevertheless the performances from these two are treats, none more so than RCC's evocative word-painting in ''Blessed is he'' and Roberts' floating vibrato in ''O God, that guides the cheerful sun''. Organ playing from Ryan Leonard is also stylish throughout.

Slightly disappointing is a treble sound which is fluffy and occasionally ill-tuned. And whilst the Amens of both ''Alack, when I look back'' and the Second Service are quite beautiful, there are moments that you wish would open out more majestically – in particular the two opening chords of both ''O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth'' and ''Prevent us, O Lord''. Vocally, the upper hand might belong to a rival ensemble's recordings of much music from this period: on Naxos the Oxford Camerata, albeit all-adult, offers vivid, closely recorded and organ accompanied recordings with an appealing contemporary ring to them. But previously unavailable material, the viols of Fretwork and some imaginative singing make this disc one of 2007's most interesting nonetheless.

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