1605 Treason & Dischord: William Byrd and the Gunpowder Plot

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COMPOSERS: Byrd,Dering,Dowland,Philips,Pott,Weelkes
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Choral works by Byrd, Dowland, Dering, Philips, Weelkes, Pott
PERFORMER: The King’s Singers; Concordia
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 061

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There are two ways of approaching this latest King’s Singers ‘plot’, 1605: Treason & Dischord. You can take a deep breath and plunge into Deborah Mackay’s slightly arch narrative – compounded by Francis Pott’s decidedly Byzantine explanation of his own compositional role (an uneasy rapprochement between 16th and 21st century styles). Or you can simply savour an adroitly-constructed programme majoring on Byrd’s Four-part Mass spliced with works pro (mostly!) and contra a recusant world view.

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The idea is ingenious: to flesh out what five composers might have been thinking as news of the Gunpowder Plot broke. Byrd, Dowland, Philips and Dering evidently ambivalent; down in Chichester, meanwhile, Thomas Weelkes nailing his protestant colours to the mast. Suave and to-the-point, Concordia rather outshines the King’s Singers whose customary polish is to the fore yet sounding disconcertingly dispassionate in a context which positively clamours for heightened emotion. Paul Riley