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I’ll kick off a sequence of three very different takes on the contextualisation of William Byrd, all with varying degrees of originality, with another male consort, arguably the most exciting of the recent crop. Gallicantus explores Byrd’s fascinating ‘personal musical exchange’ with Philippe de Monte in The Word Unspoken. Six Byrd motets sit alongside five by the Italian who, like Richafort, deserves to step out from under the shadow cast by giant contemporaries. The singing is beyond exemplary: deeply felt, tenderly phrased, perfectly balanced, with the most profound understanding, seemingly bred in the bone.

Reconstructions are the speciality of Musica Contexta so it’s hardly surprising to find them performing Byrd with liturgical bells and whistles for The Great Service in the Chapel Royal. A choir of 17 plus organ and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble should be enough to do justice to the music’s grandeur but, while it has exciting moments, the singing, particularly when reduced to solo or consort, creaks occasionally like the old wood of Tudor choir-stalls.

The Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, explores Byrd’s spiritual legacy in Haec Dies, Byrd and the Tudor Revival, setting his Mass for Five Voices as a great, deeply lustrous jewel in a crown made up of gorgeous choral and organ works by Vaughan Williams, Harris, Holst, Finzi, Britten, Howells et al. in this context, passionately sung by a choir of 25 in the voluminous, dark acoustics of Worksop College Chapel, Byrd is wrapped in the richest of reliquaries – antique and puissant as the bones of a beloved saint.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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