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William BYRD (c.1540-1623)
My Ladye Nevells Booke (1591) (Complete) [224:51]
CD 1
My Ladye Nevels Grownde Qui Passe, "for my ladye nevell" [06:37]
Qui Passe, "for my ladye nevell" The Marche before the Battell [04:25]
The Marche before the Battell [04:33]
The Battell (I. The souldiers sommons [01:26]; II. The marche of footemen [00:57]; III. The marche of horsmen [01:17]; IV. The trumpetts [01:11]; V. The Irishe marche [01:32]; VI. The bagpipe and the drone [01:15]; VII. The flute and the droome [02:04]; VIII. The marche to the fighte [02:28]; IX. The retreat [00:54])
The Galliarde for the Victorie [02:12]
The Barelye Breake [09:31]
A Galliards Gygge [02:16]
The Huntes upp [07:54]
Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la [08:37]
The Firste Pavian [04:41]
The Galliarde to the Firste Pavian [01:57]
The Seconde Pavian [02:46]
The Galliarde to the Seconde Pavian [02:06]
The Third Pavian [04:51]
The Galliarde to the Third Pavian [01:54]
CD 2
The Fourth Pavian [02:38]
The Galliarde to the Fourth Pavian [01:57]
The Fifte Pavian [04:43]
The Galliarde to the Fifte Pavian [01:56]
Pavana the Sixte, "Kinbrugh Goodd" [05:02]
The Galliarde to the Sixte Pavian [01:58]
The Seventh Pavian [04:36]
The Eighte Pavian [04:47]
The Passinge Mesures, "The Nynthe Pavian" [07:20]
The Galliarde to the Nynthe Pavian [05:31]
A Voluntarie, "For my ladye nevell" [05:37]
Will Yow Walke the Woods soe Wylde [04:35]
The Maydens Song [05:46]
A Lesson of Voluntarie [09:17]
The Second Grownde [09:49]
CD 3
Have with Yow to Walsingame [09:20]
All in a Garden Grine [04:47]
Lord Willobies Welcome Home [02:59]
The Carmans Whistle [05:06]
Hughe Ashtons Grownde [08:36]
A Fancie [06:21]
Sellingers Rownde [07:32]
Munsers Alman [08:28]
The Tennthe Pavian, "Mr. W. Peter" [05:06]
The Galliarde to the Tenneth Pavian [02:18]
A Fancie [06:05]
A Voluntarie [03:31]
Elizabeth Farr (harpsichord)
rec. Ploger Hall, Manchester, Michigan, USA, August 2006
NAXOS 8.570139-41 [3 CDs: 78:01 + 76:04 + 70:46] 


Three discs amounting to three and three-quarter hours of music and there’s plenty more of his harpsichord music. This is truly astonishing especially when you add his music for keyboard to the church music - the masses, the motets - and the little known secular music including the madrigals.

In his 1980 Grove article Joseph Kerman remarks enthusiastically “Byrd kindled English virginal music from the driest of dry wood to a splendid blaze that crackled on under Bull and Gibbons and even lit some sparks on the continent”.

My Ladye Nevells Booke was compiled in around 1591, and consists only of Byrd’s music. “My Ladye Nevell” was the cultured Elizabeth Bacon (b.1541), the third wife of Sir Henry Neville (‘Nevell’ is a variant). He was well known in musical circles and very possibly a patron of Dowland. Anyway it stands to reason that the pieces here are early Byrd. Nevertheless all of the ten great Pavans and Galliards are included. Some of the pieces are doubled up in the FitzWilliam Virginal Book and so, like the variation sets (‘The Carmen’s Whistle’, Sellinger’s Round’), are quite extensive. In fact when you realize that Byrd, or at least his copyists, always marked sixteen bar sections - or possibly twelve or even eight - to be repeated, a nine minute set could possibly have been twice that length. I’m not sure if modern day audiences could cope with that.

Following the pieces from my copy of the FitzWilliam Book was not always a good idea. In some instances, as in. ‘The Hunt’s Up’, the Variations come in a different order suggesting that Byrd revised the work between 1591 and c.1610. On other occasions sections are omitted. Clearly there are differing versions of some quite well known pieces.

The three discs each have a slightly differing agenda. The Book is presented in the order in which it was copied and its progress from long works to slightly lighter ones is therefore retained, although not with complete consistency.

Four harpsichords are used for these recordings and they are quite different. All were made under the guiding eye of Keith Hill, who writes eloquently about his instruments and who supplies his e-mail address in the booklet!

One is called Lautenwerk (L) designed and made by Keith Hill. It has a melancholy and not at all piercing sound, quite easy on the ear for works like the opening  ‘My Ladye Neville’s Grownde’. Another is a 1658 Zentis instrument [dZ] which is more metallic and clean. The third is a Flemish double manual harpsichord made in 1999 after one dated 1624 (CR). This has a bigger sound and although good for a major piece like the Seventh Pavan, I am not sure why it was selected for a lighter work like the ‘The Barley Breake’. The Italian single manual harpsichord of 1658 (AR) used for the ‘Battell’ pieces was restored by Keith Hill. It is rattles a bit – an effect accentuated by the microphone placement.

There are many fine works here. Let me pick out a few. I have already mentioned the Pavans -  played never too slowly by Elizabeth Farr. These are in three sections: generally slow and expressive and with attached triple time Galliards. My favourute pairing is probably the fourth because here we find Byrd at his most charming and graceful and tuneful.

The Fantasia (not Byrd’s title) on ‘Ut, re, mi …’ is a masterwork of polyphony and is well worth considerable study. It consists of seventeen variants of the rising six-note figure, based on different tonics and passing between the four voices. A true tour de force.

I have also much enjoyed the lighter works including what one might call a curious descriptive piece, if somewhat naïve: a set of Battle pieces which can be thought of as a suite. It begins with a ‘March; before the ‘Battell’ and after a brief series of alarums and a parade of instruments the fight starts. It ends in a galliard for Victory and a game called ‘The Barelye Breake’. Some of you may recall that this game gets a mention as ‘Shall we play barly-break’ in Morley’s ‘Now is the month of Maying’. In Byrd’s case it’s a set of imaginative variations on a series of folk-like tunes.

The most irritating thing about the otherwise wonderful performances by Elizabeth Farr is that she arpeggiates chords too often and to such an extent where the pulse can be lost, especially at the beginning of slow pieces like Pavans. This surely cannot be right and seems overly fussy.

Documentation is good and there is a very useful accompanying essay by Elizabeth Farr, writing from a performer’s angle. This offers (in the usual micro-print) a discussion of Byrd’s keyboard works and of several of the pieces. We are treated also detailed information about the editions used something I have called for in reviews of other discs. It can be very helpful.

This set serves as a handsome reminder that this priceless collection is now in the hands of the British Library and it is a very impressive achievement. It is also very well recorded.

Just one question: why is it that with 3CD box sets one of the discs always falls out inside the case?

Gary Higginson

see also Review by Kirk McElhearn

Note: The instruments
CD 1 Tracks 1, 15, 20, 21; CD 2 Tracks 5, 6, 8, 12; CD 3 Tracks 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 12
Lautenwerk designed and made by Keith Hill in Manchester, Michigan in 2000 (1x8')
CD 1 Tracks 2, 17; CD 2 Tracks 1, 2, 7, 11, 13, 14; CD 3 Tracks 4, 5
Italian Single manual harpsichord by Jerome de Zentis, made in Rome in 1658 (2x8'), restored by Keith Hill
CD 1 Tracks 14, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23; CD 2 Tracks 3, 4, 9, 10, 15; CD 3 Track 1
Flemish Double manual harpsichord by Keith Hill made in Manchester, Michigan in 1999 after the 1624 Colmar Ruckers (2x8', 4')
CD 1 Tracks 3, 4-12, 13; CD 3 Tracks 6, 7, 11
Flemish Double manual harpsichord by Keith Hill made in Manchester, Michigan in 2002 after the Ahaus Ruckers 1640 with the addition of a 16' stop (16', 2x8', 4')

Note: Edition used: Dover (c.1969) – a reprint of the original edition (J. Curwen, London, 1926) edited by Hilda Andrews with a new introduction by Blanche Winogron



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