Byrd: For my Ladye Nevell

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COMPOSERS: Byrd
LABELS: Deux-Elles
WORKS: For My Ladye Nevell music for harpsichord and virginals
PERFORMER: Terence Charlston (harpsichord, virginals)
CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1136

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Byrd’s ability to concentrate intense musical ideas into compact forms was second to none amongst his generation, and this selection of pieces from My Ladye Nevells Booke gives a taste of his subtle but ceaseless versatility. Virtuoso variations over ground-basses or on popular songs contrast with courtly pavans and sprightly galliards, the dances favoured by the Virgin Queen.

Terence Charleston underscores Byrd’s ‘grave and stately’ qualities in these sober, searching performances: he plumbs the melancholic depths of the fifth pavan and gives a visceral account of the sonorous eighth. His robust, muscular technique makes light of Byrd’s deceptively tricky scales and fiddly ornaments. These are resolved and rigorous interpretations, at times a shade unyielding – for a more rhythmically pliant approach, consider Skip Sempé’s readings of some of these works on Auvidis E 8611.

Charleston plays two, subtly contrasted instruments that lend delicate variety to the sound palette: a copy of an early Flemish virginals, its muted tones particularly effective in Byrd’s more intimate works, and a copy of a later Flemish harpsichord, the brilliant, ringing sound of which comes into its own in Byrd’s programmatic piece ‘The Battell’, complete with rousing evocations of military trumpets and pipes.

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A recommendable album, then, but not one that displaces Davitt Moroney’s recording of all the Ladye Nevell pieces, available on his monumental set of Byrd’s complete keyboard works: 493 minutes, six different instruments, plus a 45,000-word booklet to boot. Kate Bolton