Byrd: My Ladye Nevells Booke

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: My Ladye Nevells Booke
PERFORMER: Christopher Hogwood (virginal, harpsichord, chamber organ)
My Ladye Nevells Booke lasts over three hours. Yet it’s remarkably varied, because of both Byrd’s fertile imagination and Hogwood’s too. He shares the 42 pieces between virginals, Italian and Flemish harpsichords and a chamber organ, tuned in various temperaments, including a delicious mean-tone — silky smooth chords below startlingly unequal melodic steps. The virginal has an authentic mechanical addition, an ‘arpichordum’, whose metallic sound colours the famous ‘Battell’, magically transformed by Hogwood from interminable C major chords to a piece of thoroughly entertaining programme music.


Hogwood’s notes are a model of scholarship, both descriptive — of editions, instruments, tunings — and critical, analysing performance techniques, the influence of dance steps on tempo, of fingerings on phrasing. Yet scholarly rigour never suffocates the spontaneity of the playing. These are performances full of verve, as definitive now as they were 18 years ago.


The digital remastering to CD is rather mercilessly assertive, partly because of the inherent noisiness of clattering jacks but, more particularly, because of the engineers’ penchant for placing microphones far closer to strings than any listener would choose to place an ear. But thank goodness L’Oiseau-Lyre have revived this 1974/5 recording, too precious to be left forgotten, on black vinyl. George Pratt