Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

William BYRD (1543 - 1623)
Mass for Four Voices 24'39"
Mass for Five Voices 23'56"
(c1505 - 1585)
Missa Salve Intemerata Virgo* 24'38"
St. John's College Choir, Cambridge.
Conductor George Guest
Recorded March 1986 and Dec 1988* DDD
EMI Classics for Pleasure 5 74002 2 [73'13"]
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William Byrd was a Roman Catholic in an increasingly Protestant England under Elizabeth and her successor, James I. Through powerful support in the aristocracy and, it is said, through his own obduracy - his reputation is of a stubborn, cussed man - he managed to stay active in his faith in a hostile environment. Inevitably the opportunities for performance of his Latin motets that pre-dated his settings of the Mass were limited under the circumstances. It was only when Byrd moved to Essex to join an titled patron and became part of the Catholic community there that he was able, probably in secret, to attend a Mass that would have used his own settings.

Whatever, the difficulties and problems he had, he survived and to some degree prospered and left us a legacy of some magnificent antiphonal choral music. Two examples are on this recording - settings of the Latin Mass for four and for five voices (parts). Byrd also wrote a three-part setting. The St. John's Choir - as an all male body - reflects how the voices would have been four hundred or so years ago. The settings were written between 1592 -1595 and take the same six sections of the liturgy as their base.

The music is beautiful, hypnotic and utterly involving. In an ideal world it should be heard sung live in one of our great cathedrals but the disc is a good substitute. The recording captures the voices well in their big acoustic and the strands in the parts remain clear, well-defined and blend well together. Add near perfect diction and this is a delightful recording.

Thomas Tallis's religious affiliations were less clear cut than Byrd's were. He tended to "keep his head down" and concentrate on his music and his livelihood as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and the musical duties attached to the post. His Missa Salve Intemerata Virgo, using the same six sections as did Byrd, is a rich work , sung mainly in four parts by a larger choir.

There are a number of good recordings of this material already available (certainly the William Byrd) and at its bargain price this attractive release is a worthwhile option to consider.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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