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WORKS: Mass for five voices; Motets: Emendemus in melius; Infelix ego; Ave Maria; Christe qui lux es, etc
PERFORMER: Collegium Vocale Gent/ Philippe Herreweghe


Byrd’s repertory is familiar largely through English recordings. Departing radically from this tradition, Philippe Herreweghe renews the power of Byrd’s masterpieces with sensual, intimate, moving, and very un-English performances. We have to lean in to hear what’s going on, as Herreweghe uses silence, and unexpected twists in dynamic and tempo to build intensity. Compare, for instance, this disc’s Infelix ego with that of the Cardinall’s Musick on Hyperion. Instead of each part robustly pressing forward, the Collegium Vocale Gent lets lines delicately unfold; rhetoric, not architecture, is the focus, so that statements, rather than imitative points, grab our attention; and instead of a towering finale, a long-breathed sigh ends the motet, inviting reflection on the last word, ‘mercy’. In English one-on-a-part ensembles, vocalists typically cultivate their individual responses to Byrd’s ideas. In the Collegium, the response is collective, inspired and shaped by Herreweghe.

The Collegium’s strengths make possible Herreweghe’s deeply meditative approach. Its creamy blend allows him to thicken textures or spin unison passages, and its vocal colours let him brilliantly paint the canvas of Byrd’s score. The Collegium vocalists can also register slight stylistic changes: Alfonso Ferrabosco’s Peccantem me quotidie – in its first recording – gets a flouncier delivery than Byrd, in keeping with Ferrabosco’s madrigalisms and his temperament.

The recording faithfully captures the cosiness of the 13th-century Chiesa di San Francesco in Asciano, and bird song from the Italian countryside is faintly audible between movements.


Berta Joncus