Byrd: Keyboard music (complete)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Keyboard music (complete)
PERFORMER: Davitt Moroney (harpsichords, muselar virginal, clavichord, organ)
This immense project, recorded over six years and planned for 15, arises from Moroney’s passionate commitment to the greatest keyboard composer of the Elizabethan age. The outcome is a triumph. Moroney’s technical mastery, scholarship and profound musical thoughtfulness combine to create a sense of joyful spontaneity. The sound quality is an object lesson in recording technique: harpsichords intimate but never oppressive, three precious tracks each of gentle clavichord and chamber organ, and a magnificent organ. Here, Moroney strictly limits his choice of stops to suit Byrd’s period, and convincingly argues the case for transposing the music down a fourth, lending it a wonderful gravitas enhanced by almost 15 seconds of reverberation. Only once, in a ‘Ground’ (CD3) where two distant harmonies overlap, is the musical coherence less than crystal clear.


Of Moroney’s two harpsichords, one has a unique specification (explained fully in 100 pages of generous notes) allowing exceptional timbral variety – try the wistful variations on ‘O mistris myne’ (CD5). Best, though, is his muselar virginal. Here, the positioning of the keyboard generates a ravishingly warm tone, though keys tend to clatter – they ‘grunt in the bass like young pigs’ said an 18th-century commentator. It can be intensely reflective (‘Pavana lachrymae’, CD2), or trumpet brashly in Byrd’s notorious ‘Battell’ (CD7).


Over eight hours of music may appear daunting. But Moroney’s helpful grouping of dances, fantasias, variations on popular tunes, invites you to select your own programme from this archival production – surely the definitive account for the foreseeable future.