Byrd: Consort Songs

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Consort Songs
PERFORMER: Robin Blaze (countertenor); Concordia
‘Crystalline sincere’: Edward Dyer’s 16th-century encomium captures the feeling of this remarkable performance. Recordings of Byrd’s consort songs are scattered among anthologies of Renaissance music; here, the artists recreate a cross-section of this repertoire to explore Byrd’s private ruminations on contemporary issues. Consort songs throw up several challenges: although the voice dominates, the consort is central to the structure, persistently interrupting and restating the principal melodic ideas. Performers must both maintain narrative logic and highlight contrapuntal sophistication. Besides elegantly negotiating these twin imperatives, Blaze and Concordia inject their interpretation with a compelling visceral response to Byrd. Blaze continues to chart new territories of vocal expression. Blending purity with confidence, he draws on his vocal strengths – effortlessly sustained legato, delicate pianissimos, crisp declamation – to starkly varied effect, depending on the context of each song. He is able to deliver the macabre word-painting of ‘skulls rolling down a hill’ flippantly, then plumb the depths of Byrd’s sorrow over the death of his mentor, Thomas Tallis. With its rich sonority, Concordia is equally involved in dramatising the meaning of the lyrics, skilfully creating a polyphonic dialogue internal to the band, out of which single instruments emerge in fleeting duets with the voice. In this marriage of technical mastery and instinctive understanding, Byrd’s complex psychology stands revealed. Berta Joncus