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CLASSICAL  July 2004

CLASSICAL July 2004

Subject:

Byrd Edition

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 26 Jul 2004 08:20:04 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (102 lines)

            William Byrd
        Byrd Edition, vol. 7

* Propers for Lady Mass from Christmas to the Purification
* Defecit in dolore
* Domine praestolamur
* O Domine adjuva me
* Tristitia et anxietas
* Memento Domine
* Vide Domine afflictionem
* Deus venerunt gentes
* Domine tu jurasti

The Cardinall's Musick/Andrew Carwood
ASV Gaudeamus CD GAU 224 Total time: 68:20

Summary for the Busy Executive: Close to ideal.

Even at this late date, composers before, say, Purcell are little-known.
The music they wrote sounds strange to us, mainly because in the wake
of Bach and Wagner, we've forgotten the emotional key.  The Renaissance
boasts many fine, even great composers, among the latter William Byrd.
As a chorister, I've been singing his music for more than thirty years,
and I know only a small fraction of it.  Now ASV's Gaudeamus imprint
undertakes what seems a major exploration of Byrd's catalogue.  The
internet shows me eight recorded volumes so far.

Byrd remained a Catholic in Protestant England, at a time when such
affiliation meant danger.  Many of his friends went to jail or to the
executioner as they became entangled or merely associated with various
plots to overthrow or assassinate Queen Elizabeth.  Indeed, the authorities
once rounded up Byrd himself but let him go, on the grounds that he was
"merely a musician." So at times social contempt for the arts does pay.
He wrote in many genres, sacred and secular, with eminence in all of
them.  Unlike his teacher, Thomas Tallis, Byrd kept testing the limits
of the regime.  Among other things, he wrote (and published!) two complete
settings for the Propers (that part of the Catholic liturgy specific to
a feast or church season), even though the use of such rites in public
worship had been banned.  A "lady mass" is one held in honor of Mary
and most of the texts praise the Virgin - yet another sign of Byrd's
Catholicism.  Gaudeamus appears bent on issuing recordings of all the
Propers, collected into the Gradualia.  I hope they make it to the end.
Besides church music with quasi-utilitarian purpose, Byrd also wrote
what some call "free motets" - that is, sacred choral works not specific
to any Christian rite, Protestant or Catholic.  Certain musicologists
make much of the fact that the Cantiones Sacrae (three large collections
from 1575, 1589, and 1591, respectively) set Latin texts - Latin associated,
of course, with Catholicism.  I tend to doubt Byrd made that kind of
distinction, shown by the fact that he sometimes put English words to
motets originally set in Latin and that English Protestant composers
continued to mine Latin texts.  What points more strongly to Byrd's
Catholicism is that many of the texts he chose (or composed) refer to
the Babylonian Captivity - the chosen in the midst of the heathen (or
heretics).

The 1575 collection Byrd made in collaboration with Tallis.  This,
coincidentally, was the first extended work of Byrd I'd heard, beyond
the Masses for 3, 4, and 5 voices - an old L'oiseau-lyre LP set with
Michael Howard leading the Cantores in Ecclesia, a gorgeous performance
which still holds up aesthetically, if not historically.  Gaudeamus
publishes Byrd's contributions to the set in Volume 4 (GAU178).  You can
find Tallis's contributions on volume 7 of Tallis's complete works (Signum
29) with the Chapelle du Roi led by Alistair Dixon.  At any rate, on the
program here we get the first eight motets of the 1589 Cantiones Sacrae.
Most of the motets wail by the waters of Babylon or in the land of Egypt.
I'd emphasize the word "wail." Of all the Tudor composers, Byrd, Dowland,
and Weelkes lie closest to modern sensibilities, mainly because they
regard music as a vehicle for immediate drama.  A listener doesn't have
to know the arcana of Renaissance music aesthetics in order to comprehend
the emotional import of the music.  You don't have to "think yourself
back" with Byrd, as you do to some extent even with such wonderful
composers as Sheppard, Taverner, Cornysh, Phillips, Dunstable, and Tye.

In "Domine praestolamur adventum tuum" (O Lord, we look for your coming),
for example, the rising line of the first idea expresses the anticipation,
the longing for God to "dissolve the bonds of our captivity" - the last
two words set to the same rising idea.  The second half of the motet,
beginning at the words "Veni, Domine, noli tardare" (Come, Lord; do not
delay), increases the urgency of the request by having the voices enter
at closer and closer intervals.  A listener might not pick up the mechanics
of this but will undoubtedly recognize the emotional rise.

Carwood, a very stylish singer himself, recognizes the drama in the
writing and brings forth performances both emotional and impeccable -
sort of a vocal analogy of the Quartetto Italiano. The Cardinall's
Musick, eleven singers, perform these works one to a part, giving their
account an intimacy, the sense of the anguish and hope of one person.
Furthermore, each singer shapes the line as a string quartet player
would, stepping up and stepping back, depending on the structural
prominence of the line at any particular moment, and thus impart a
kaleidoscopic shimmer to the music.  I've heard no better ensemble
singing than this.  I could, if I wanted, quibble with the resolutely
straight tone of the singers, obviously a deliberate choice of the
director.  But the singing knocks me out so technically, musically,
and emotionally that I'd consider such a complaint ungracious.  The
acoustic - less resonant than for most recordings of this kind of
music - suits the sound.

In short, a major series of releases.

Steve Schwartz

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