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Byrd: Psalmes, Songs & Sonnets (1611)

The Sixteen/Harry Christophers; Fretwork (CORO)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets (1611): Come, woeful Orpheus; Retire, my soul; A feigned friend; Awake mine eyes; What is life, or worldly pleasure? etc
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers; Fretwork
CORO COR 16193   89:55 mins (2 discs)

Byrd’s 1611 publication of works for between three and six voices was one of the last collections he issued. It has received little attention in the recording studios and should not be confused with his 1588 anthology of Psalmes, Sonnets and Songs which was uniformly for five voices. We have here a mixture of full choral anthems, verse anthems (sections for solo voice accompanied by viols, followed by others for full choir), consort songs (solo voice plus instruments) and vocal ensemble songs approaching the madrigal style. This provides excellent material for The Sixteen, a choir hugely experienced in Renaissance music (and much else besides), and for the instrumental group Fretwork who show their captivating skills not only in the consort songs but also in two Fantasias that Byrd included in the publication.

The choir is at its best in the full choral works such as the anthem ‘Turn Our Captivity’ where they impressively shape and unfold the music. The solo singers shine particularly in the verse anthem ‘Have Mercy Upon Me’ (Katy Hill), and also in the psalm setting ‘Sing Ye To Our Lord’ (Alexander Kidgell, Emillia Morton, Jeremy Budd) where they expertly engage with the dance rhythms, the imitative dialogue and the joyous mood. Sometimes the intricate textures can get rather fuzzy (‘The Sweet and Merry Month of May’) and a clearer structural use of dynamics might have aided the musical narrative of some of the longer pieces. But this is a significant and welcome addition to Byrd’s recorded output.

Anthony Pryer