Byrd 1589 – Songs of Sundrie Natures
Clare Wilkinson, Martha McLorinan (mezzo-soprano), Jacob Heringman, Lynda Sayce (lute); Alamire; Fretwork/David Skinner
Inventa INV 1011 122:37 mins (2 discs)
As he approached his late forties, William Byrd published two collections of predominantly secular music – Psalms, Sonnets and Songs (1588) and his Songs of Sundrie Natures (1589). They are not much recorded and so complete accounts of the first (2021) and now the second collection by the Alamire/Fretwork team on the Inventa label are very welcome. There is no questioning the technical ability of these performers, but this quite varied music for between three and six voices does offer some stylistic and interpretative challenges.
Disc 1 begins with penitential psalms. The performances are poised and reflective as they should be, and nicely in tune. But here and elsewhere (in ‘Compel the Hawk’ on disc 2 for example) the music is presented as a rather featureless landscape with few obvious goals. Sometimes this translates into a svelte sound, as in ‘Weeping full sore’, but in other works (‘Right Blessed Are They’) with their exquisite harmonic false relations more needs to be made of the intended tensions. Byrd conceived of many of these pieces as domestic music and so the focus is on the performers, giving each something to do all the time. The resulting dense textures are well handled with some impressive imitative singing in ‘The Nightingale’, ‘Christ Rising’ and the Rejoice section of ‘From Virgin’s Womb’. Just occasionally the character seems misjudged. The madrigalian ‘While That The Sun’ needs a faster pace, and the comic ‘Who made the Hob’ some rustic rumbustiousness.
The Fretwork instrumentalists are supportive and nuanced throughout.