In Chains of Gold: The English Pre-Restoration Anthem Vol. 2
William Byrd to Edmund Hooper: Psalms and Royal Anthems
Silas Wollston (organ), William Lyons (dulcian)
Magdalena Consort/Peter Harvey
Fretwork, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts/William Hunt
2019, St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD609 [70:29]
The first recording in this series, devoted to the consort anthems of Orlando Gibbons, earned a good deal of praise, not least from Johan van Veen – review – and myself – Autumn 2017/3 (SIGCD511).
From Gibbons we now turn the clock back slightly to William Byrd and his younger contemporaries. With emphasis rightly placed on Byrd’s Latin texted music on other recordings, it’s good to be reminded that he was the first composer of distinction
after the Reformation to adapt to the new English texts. His older contemporary and friend, Thomas Tallis, never quite made the transition as successfully, yet only a handful of Byrd’s English anthems are at all well known. The Tallis Scholars’ excellent 2-CDs-for-1 set The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd includes just four – Prevent us, O Lord, O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth, O God, the proud are risen and Sing joyfully – alongside his three Masses and other Latin music (CDGIM208). Whether by design or not, none of these are included here, so there is no duplication.
Nor is there any overlap with another very fine recording, from the Dunedin Consort, which, confusingly, is also entitled In Chains of Gold, containing Latin texts set by Byrd and Tallis (Delphian DCD34008 – review – Autumn 2019/1). In fact, the new recording is self-recommending, especially to those who heard and enjoyed Volume 1. Some of the Byrd pieces are not otherwise available, including the opening Hear my prayer, O Lord.
One work which is available on another recording of Byrd’s more intimate music, sacred and secular, is Have mercy upon me, O God. An early Naxos recording with Red Byrd and the Rose Consort of Viols includes it and Christ rising again. It’s sung there, as here, with viol accompaniment, as would have been intended, and it’s very well sung, but the new Signum recording is preferable, lending greater dignity to the music, where the Naxos is more redolent of the singing and playing of the gifted amateurs
who would have sung it (8.550604).
Teach me Lord has received a number of recordings, notably on a Hyperion recording of music from the reigns of the two Tudor queens: Mary and Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey. That’s the only item common to both and the Hyperion deserves praise in its own right (CDA67704). Michael Greenhalgh praised it – review – as did I – review – but in one respect the new Signum scores over it. Much of Byrd’s English output was written for intimate performance, and, though this piece was probably composed for Lincoln Cathedral in the 1560s, as a verse anthem at the end of Mattins or Evensong, it benefits from its comparatively small-scale performance here, with just ten singers in the choral section.
The Hyperion recording features a treble soloist in the verse part, which is authentic, but inevitably his voice cannot compete with that Zoë Brookshaw, triplex on the new recording. The chamber organ on the new Signum sounds more appropriate, too, than the
All Hallows' organ on the Westminster Abbey recording; however sensitively the registration has been chosen, it inevitably sounds like a large organ toned down. For all that, I shall still be returning to the Westminster recording.
Christ rising from the dead is certainly a piece for liturgical use; it sets words directed in the English Book of Common Prayer to be said or sung in place of the invitatory psalm Venite at Mattins on Easter Day, one of the few remnants of the pre-reformation Easter celebrations remaining in the Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559. (online version
here) It’s little wonder that Catholics like Byrd thought they were living in a new Babylonian captivity, but he makes the most of the opportunity to set these sentences. There are a few alternative recordings, including a collection of music for Music for Holy Week and Easter from Queen’s College Oxford and Owen Rees (Guild GMCD7222). That was warmly recommended by John Quinn – review – but it receives a slightly snappier and more festive performance on the new Signum recording.
The Red Byrd recording on Naxos, mentioned above, concludes with Christ rising. Like Have mercy upon me, it’s well sung and represents what might have been heard in the queen’s Chapel Royal, but the attempt at Elizabethan pronunciation – hardly noticeable in the earlier piece – is more irritating here. Like most such attempts, it comes out sounding like Mummerset and is best left alone; we know much more about the pronunciation of Chaucer than we do about the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when English vowels shifted to their current diphthongised sounds.
The final two works by Byrd have been convincingly reconstructed. The words have been preserved, as has most of the
parts, but for a viol consort. The piecing together has been done most convincingly;
it works well with the able assistance of the accomplished viol consort Fretwork. There are no other recordings, and it’s hardly likely that these will be supplanted.
Thus far, the Byrd pieces had already sold this recording to me – not quite literally, because I had press access, though I might well have found myself in the market otherwise. The 16-bit CD-quality download costs just £7.99, with 24/96 for £12.00 and 24/192 for the real hi-def buffs costing £14.00. All come with the pdf booklet. The CD can be found on limited special offer from
Presto for £11.50.
The only other composer here who is well known is Thomas Morley, represented by one piece, the penitential psalm Out of the Deep – perhaps Signum are saving more of his music for a future volume?
John Bull may have given his name to the archetypal Englishman – and a children’s printing set a long time ago – but he spent the latter part of his life in exile, fleeing the intended punishment of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King James, and sometimes claiming to be a Catholic exile. Nevertheless, the Archbishop was correct when he admitted that Bull had ‘more music than honesty’ and was adept at ‘the fingering of organs and virginals’. His two vocal works and the keyboard fantasia will whet the appetite for more of his music. Perhaps Signum, who include one of his instrumental In Nomines on another recording (SIGCD576 – review) could provide us with a complete Bull album?
Benjamin Cosyn’s very short Dorick Prelude can be found on a collection of music for lute consort (Alpha 305 – review) and an equally short organ Voluntary on Delphian DCD34100 – review – and that’s about it, so the two voluntaries presented here as interludes are very welcome.
Nor is the music of John Mundy abundantly to be found on record. His setting of Sing joyfully may not quite equal the intensity of his Lamentations, sung by the Lay Clerks of St George’s Windsor on Delphian DCD34068 but, as performed here, with Peter Harvey an impressive bass soloist in the verse sections, it demonstrates that he deserves to be better known. (Incidentally, he is not to be confused with the slightly better known and earlier William Mundy, as I did in mentioning that recording in reviewing another Delphian recording.)
Edward Hooper is equally little known, though famous in his time; he was the Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. On the basis of the two pieces here, he certainly deserves to be much better known. O God of Gods, written for the anniversary of the accession of King James, is especially impressive; the notes compare its antiphonal effects with the best of renaissance and baroque Venice and it makes a wonderful conclusion to a very impressive programme, accompanied by the full instrumental works, including the dulcian’s sole appearance on this recording.
Much as I enjoyed Volume 1, as fine a set of recordings of Orlando Gibbons as you will find, I was even more impressed by this successor volume. Not only does it offer music by Byrd not otherwise available on record, it also introduces us to the music of Edward Hooper – a real find. It does so, too, with performances unlikely to be bettered of their kind. The recording, especially as heard in 24-bit, does music and performances full justice and the booklet contains helpful and informative notes, though it’s remiss of Signum not to give the composers’ dates. The expression ‘to draw the hearer, as it were, in chains of gold’ was intended by Thomas Morley as a criticism of singers who broke the choral ranks by showing off; there’s no hint of that here.
The Recommended accolade is for the cumulative achievement of the two volumes, with more to come, I hope.
William BYRD (1540?-1623)
Hear my prayer, O Lord [3:24]
O Lord, rebuke me not [4:59]
Have mercy upon me, O God [4:03]
Fantasia (No.46) [4:26]
Teach me, O Lord [3:11]
Christ Rising Again [5:20]
I Will Give Laud [3:50]
Look and Bow Down [6:00]
John BULL (1562?-1628)
Almighty God, Which by the Leading of a Star [4:42]
Fantasia No.16 [1:12]
Deliver Me, O God [4:21]
Benjamin COSYN (c.1570-c.1652)
Voluntary No.3 [1:47]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)
Out of the Deep [3:48]
Voluntary No.1 [2:19]
Hearken ye Nations [5:59]
Sing joyfully [4:44]
O God of Gods [6:16]