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Seen & Heard
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William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd
Mass for five voices [22:27]
Mass for four voices [22:06]
Mass for three voices [17:51]
Ave verum corpus [4:10]
Infelix ego [12:20]
Tristitia et anxietas [10:06]#
Ne irascaris, Domine [8:06]#
Prevent us, O Lord [2:48]#
The Great Service [44:14]*
O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth [2:52]*
O God, the proud are risen [3:01]*
Sing joyfully unto God [2:59]*
The Tallis Scholars/Peter
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, September 1983 (CD1), Church of St John at
Hackney, June 1986*, Tewkesbury Abbey, September 2002 #. DDD
Booklet includes sung texts and translations in English of the Latin texts and
French and German of all texts.
GIMELL CDGIM208 [79:05
to these performances I was struck by their freshness and fluency.
There are just two voices per part. In the Mass for three voices
the Kyrie’s structure and span are admirably clear. The tone
is smiling but not over emotive. The Gloria is lively, displaying
clarity of line and enunciation and also a certain objectivity. ‘Domine
Deus’, beginning here as a tenor solo (tr. 12 1:43) is the
first verse section where solo voices are used, emphasising
a more personal prayer and securing an effective contrast when
all voices return at ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’. And there’s
no lack of drama when the parts rise in turn as they affirm ‘tu
solus altissimus’, ‘you alone are the most high’, which generates
a power boost for a swinging closing section ‘cum sancto Spiritu’.
With few voices this can be vigorous without seeming over theatrical.
compared the 1999 recording by The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew
Carwood (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 206). Here are the comparative
Sanctus & B
also uses two voices per part but soprano, counter-tenor and
tenor, rather than Phillips’ countertenor, tenor and bass,
to more luminous effect in the Kyrie. In the Carwood Gloria
there’s more attention to the articulation of the text, for
example a sense of flowering at ‘rex caelestis’ where Phillips
places more emphasis on rhythm and propulsion. Phillips makes
more marked tempo contrasts, so ‘Domine Deus’ is slower and
more adoring after which there’s a gradual acceleration to
is a sturdy affirmation with constant echoing by one part of
another. Notable is the rapt quality of solo voices used for ‘Et
incarnatus est’ (tr. 13 2:03) without any slackening of tempo.
The simplicity of the statement ‘Crucifixus’ in the bass, echoed
in turn by countertenor and tenor, is moving before the full
chorus floods in jubilantly at ‘Et resurrexit’. Carwood’s opening
is a brighter affirmation of more even flow, with a serene ‘Et
incarnatus’ and reverent gaze to the Crucifixus. Phillips’ Sanctus,
a little slower, is like a contemplative peal of bells with
something of devotion about it, its ‘Osanna in excelsis’ then
faster, excited and exultant as the mood changes from prayer
to praise. The Benedictus is then quieter but serene, as is
the opening of the Agnus Dei, the third plea of which, for
the first time using all three parts at the same time (tr.
15 1:38), is suddenly infused with extraordinary tenderness
as the sound becomes more dense to bring fervour to the closing ‘dona
nobis pacem’. Carwood’s Sanctus, seamlessly projected, is like
a flower opening out, his Agnus Dei smooth and grateful in
its flow, while its ‘dona nobis pacem’ has a willing conviction
in its sudden greater momentum where Phillips is more even
in tempo yet very expressive in plea. Either performance will
Phillips’ Kyrie of the Mass for four voices you notice how
a second soprano line makes the texture more elaborate and
with this comes a broadening of structure and heightened sense
of drama. In this Gloria there’s a lilting approach to the
early alternation of the two upper and lower parts. The structure
is swiftly and lucidly presented as a positive witness. Contrasts
are made through dynamics rather than numbers of singers. In
this Credo the ‘Crucifixus’ (3:10) is a wan witness, marked
and concentrated because a rare section of homophony before
the firm rising scale of ‘Et resurrexit’ (3:34) and still more
marked ascent and rhythm of ‘Et ascendit in caelum’ (3:55)
becoming heady and exultant. This Sanctus, a little slower,
is of balmy adoration and poised phrasing, smooth in line until
the excitement of the Osannas. The three pleas of the Agnus
Dei grow more poignant as two parts become three and then four.
The morose harmonies of ‘dona nobis pacem’ look forlornly for
hope in their relentless repetition.
the Mass for five voices there’s a second tenor part. The greater
elaboration this provides is used to make more ecstatic passages
for all parts and climaxes. The accumulation in the Kyrie (tr.
1) is more gradual still and the sections contain more reflection
in their wider spans. In the Gloria (tr. 2) the first acclamation
involving all voices at ‘Laudamus te’ is flamboyant while ‘Gratias
agimus tibi’ has an attractively sunny assurance with a lilting
character. In the Credo there’s an assured paciness. ‘Et incarnatus
est’ steals smoothly on the scene but ‘Crucifixus’ is a touch
more solemn acknowledgement of fact. ‘Et resurrexit’ is sturdier, ‘Et
ascendit in caelum’ athletic, after which there seems to come
a flood of light of inner conviction and strength. Here is
the most sonorous Sanctus of beacons of worship. The Benedictus,
however, has a more ethereal, privately contemplative opening,
as does the Agnus Dei, whose first plea is scored for three
parts, second for four and third for five. Phillips brings
to the early pleas a moving clarity and tenderness. The third
becomes more dramatic before falling away, smoothly and balmily
for ‘dona nobis pacem’. I was surprised by the roseate beauty
of so much of this performance.
brings his customary flowing line to Ave verum corpus (tr.
16) yet the intensity of the harmonies and the admirable clarity
of the part writing give it plenty of feeling. The refrain ‘O
dulcis’ is repeated softer (2:38) to more inward, plangent
effect. Infelix ego (tr. 17) in six vocal parts includes
notable use of a descant soprano top line. Phillips’ approach
is direct, firmly expressive and kinetic. The first part ends
with the recognition of the confessing sinner being an outrage, ‘scandalum
fui’ (from 3:10) in cascading descents. The closing prayer, ‘Miserere
mei’ (9:44) begins in contrite low register before an ethereal
higher repeat and has a welcome sense of repose as the earnest
pace of Phillips’ performance has at last eased.
begins with Vigilate. Here is singing of urgency and
edge in the vigorous depiction of cockcrow, ‘an gallicantu’ (tr.
1 from 1:26) and the title keyword, ‘Keep watch’, racily declaimed
in energetic vocal runs by all parts to close. Tristitia
et anxietas (tr. 2) offers the desolation of ‘Vae mihi
quia peccavi’ (4:35), ‘Woe is me for I have sinned’, the emphasis
on that sin becoming more intense and agitated (from 5:19).
The closing section features a smoother ‘et Miserere mei’ (8:39), ‘and
have pity on me’ which still reaches an earnest climax before
it seems to resolve, comforted.
irascaris, Domine (tr. 3), having
established florid counterpoint, cuts across and contrasts
this with square chords at ‘Ecce’ (1:35), ‘Behold’, a strong
plea here, almost a demand. But what you remember is the
second part (3:48), in particular the sad beauty of ‘facta
est deserta’ (4:29), ‘has been left deserted’. The chords
return for ‘Sion deserta’ (5:20) first in the upper, then
lower voices, the effect that of the witness of the whole
earth to a still background now all counterpoint has ceased.
It soon returns for the flowing imitation of ‘Jerusalem’ (5:52),
a passage which has all the beauty of recollection of happier
times before the irony of the lovely flow in this account
of the final imitation between the parts at ‘desolata est’ (6:23).
Tallis Scholars sing The Great Service unaccompanied,
beautifully and beguilingly. From the opening of the Venite (tr.
5) there’s a comely assurance, smoothness and clarity in the
myriad antiphonal effects. But there’s very little contrast
between that opening verse section for solo voices in four
parts and the full one at 0:24 for all voices of the two five
part choirs, because with only twelve singers altogether there’s
no scope for distinctions of density as are to be had from
the 36 voices of Westminster Abbey Choir/James O’Donnell in
their 2005 recording (Hyperion CDA 67533) with organ accompaniment,
as most likely originally. But Phillips’ pure toned, vibrato
free sopranos, if a touch creamier, are arguably closer to
the more mature treble voices Byrd had available than today
when boys’ voices break earlier, though I like the Westminster
boys’ astringent piping. Here are the comparative timings:
full sections are lustier. This makes for a more dramatic and
contrasted revelation of the texts, though there’s less presence
and beauty to individual voices in the verse sections than
displayed by Phillips. Phillips’ Te Deum (tr. 6) has a more
measured, quiet reverence in comparison with O’Donnell’s angels
who cry aloud with more gusto. Phillips’ final section, ‘O
Lord in thee have I trusted’ (8:00) is more reflectively prayerful
where O’Donnell is firmer, almost admonishing. The Benedictus
(tr. 7) gets its serenely contemplative strength from recurring
motifs, most memorably in a higher tessitura passage for the
sunny picture of ‘all the days of our life’ (4:26). The overall
effect is extraordinarily ethereal while Phillips’ greater
measure than O’Donnell allows you to consider the text more.
a mention in the booklet Phillips omits the Kyrie. This
is one response in 5 parts to nine of the Ten Commandments
intoned by a priest and then a final response which, though
devout, would be tedious in a recording. O’Donnell just performs
the two responses which seems to me a fair compromise as they
are part of Byrd’s setting. They are also chaste, contrite,
prayerful and contain the hope of serenity which pervades the
whole. This makes the total timing of his complete Great
Service 43:21. O’Donnell’s Creed with more voices and contrast
has more immediacy and a style of positive declaration. Phillips
is more contemplative, untroubled, inward with a focus on clarity.
For example, the verse ‘And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost’ (tr.
8 1:36) has a smoothness and sanctity comparable to that section
in the Masses while ‘And was crucified’ (2:04) is a passage
of sorrowing reflection.
Magnificat (tr. 9) begins with four solo voices, quickly followed
by the first appearance of the full forces for the repetition
of ‘And my spir’t rejoiceth’ (0:17) to joyous effect though
O’Donnell is lustier. Phillips gets a blithely skipping quality
for ‘all generations shall call me blessed’ (1:07) typical
of the madrigalian lightness of articulation he achieves throughout,
though O’Donnell finds more uninhibited rhythmic excitement. ‘And
his mercy is on that that fear him’ (2:22) is for all voices
but Phillips presents it effectively in sotto voce manner,
thus emphasising the scale of that mercy and creating a pleasing
foil for the more lively, madrigalian imitation of ‘throughout
all generations ‘ (2:39). O’Donnell’s Nunc Dimittis has a more
intimate and personal verse opening with the full ‘For mine
eyes’ a gleeful witness. The ‘and to be the glory’ entries
are small yet still bright beacons before a sinewy full attack
for the closing Gloria’s resilient affirmation. Phillips is
slower, softer, all serene, clean phrasing shaped with artistry,
beautiful tone and the whole has a lambent glow with the Gloria
just a touch firmer.
Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth (tr.
11) under a chordal veneer enjoys deft touches of dense counterpoint,
especially the imitative entries in the parts in turn at ‘And
give her a long life’ (from 1:24). Phillips’ use of just
10 voices makes it sunnily personal. Its beautifully undulating
Amen is given a real lilt. Prevent us, O Lord (tr.
4) has a similar technique but the counterpoint is more taut,
for example at ‘And further us with thy continual help’ (0:29)
where the entries display a tight continuity. O God, the
proud are risen (tr.12) is more dramatic. Its opening
is protesting declamation, relatively civilized in this performance.
Almost soporific slow rhythms illustrate ‘slow to anger’ (1:35)
before the springing energy of affirmation, no longer protest,
at ‘And great in kindness’ (2:00) which itself becalms to
effect a satisfying close. Sing joyfully (tr. 13)
has especially robust counterpoint. The imitative entries
at ‘Sing loud’ (0:21) crack into each other at close quarters.
The antiphonal effects and firm cross accents at ‘Blow up
the trumpet’ (1:04) here have a hearty relish. I miss the
more piping trebles but sopranos make ‘the pleasant harp
and the viol’ (0:50) more suave and the closing section, ‘For
this is a statute’ (1:49) more tranquil.
of these reissued recordings aren’t given but I’ve added them
to the heading. Two CDs for the price of one full price are
good value here. There are performances of the Great Service and
anthems of more authentic and dramatic, fuller bodied forces
but none more beautifully sung, cleanly phrased and finely
balanced. These qualities also tellingly reveal the spirituality
of the masses and poignancy of the Latin motets.
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