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Westminster Cathedral Choir offer Byrd’s three Latin Masses for five, four and three voices respectively, plus the justifiably ubiquitous Ave verum corpus from the Gradualia, in their customary full-blooded, glorious, Italianate interpretations. Superbly written liner notes by John Milsom elucidate the dichotomy of musical language between Byrd’s ‘public’ Reformed output, rich in ceremonial splendour and extrovert pomp, and the ‘chamber’ nature of his Catholic music, covertly written to be covertly sung in intimate and fearful situations.

The performances here, of course, bridge that dichotomy: the Catholic Masses resplendent in the proud ambience of Westminster Cathedral. Milsom emphasises the fittingness of this in historical terms. It was the Catholic choral foundations of late Victorian and Edwardian England – at Westminster Cathedral but also at Downside Abbey and at the Brompton Oratory – that were one of the primary practical forces, in their quest for relevant music for worship, in the revival of Byrd’s music and its restoration – ironically – to the Anglican canon.

Martin Baker and his multitudinous singers (22 trebles) bring Byrd’s freeform melodic lines deftly into relief within a lush polyphonic texture, with emotional immediacy and a refreshing lack of fussiness, and the phrase shaping and sectional contrast and delineation are thrilling.

Catherine Groom Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing