Byrd: Propers for Lady Mass in Advent; Omni tempore benedic Deum; Domine quis habitabit

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COMPOSERS: Byrd
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Propers for Lady Mass in Advent; Omni tempore benedic Deum; Domine quis habitabit
PERFORMER: Frideswide Consort, The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 170
Given his status as ‘a Father of Musick’ and ‘Brittanicae Musicae Parens’, it seems incredible that no one should have contemplated a recorded Byrd edition until now. After all, the tremendous variety of his output – Latin motets and Masses, English services and anthems, consort and keyboard music, madrigals and solo songs – is hardly likely to deter the casual listener in the way that the less differentiated content of, say, a Palestrina edition might. But here at last we have the first instalment of what promises to be a project to record every note which Byrd probably set down.

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Much of this first disc’s success hinges on the presentation, and the up-to-the-minute scholarly research found in David Skinner and Andrew Carwood’s booklet notes, a carefully balanced programme (which includes some brief recorder pieces delightfully played by the Frideswide Consort), the decision to present the Gradualia music in small chunks, and singing which balances the expressive demands of the texts with the classical poise of the music are all elements which can hardly be faulted.

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Musically, the weight of this first instalment rests with some of the early motets, the most impressive of which, the nine-part Domine quis habitabit, begins the disc in fine style. Here Byrd’s rich, bottom-heavy textures flow with an easy inevitability, the tonal and dramatic contrasts are telling but not exaggerated, and the whole piece gathers an irresistible, almost symphonic, momentum – as, one hopes, will this exciting and long overdue project. Antony Bye