RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘This is deeply impressive consort-singing, the sort where the silence between the phrases is pregnant with meaning’
Edward Breen celebrates an album that plugs a significant gap in the recorded catalogue of William Byrd with stylish performances by The Sixteen and Fretwork
Byrd Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets The Sixteen; Fretwork / Harry Christophers Coro (COR16193 b • 90’ • T)
With 2023 marking the 400th anniversary of William Byrd’s death, you might be expecting a surge in recordings of his sacred choral works, and if so, I would advise you strongly not to pass over this largely secular collection. It is an extraordinarily poignant release that will delight, distract and could also, potentially, recalibrate our thinking about the late, great Byrd. These Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets, which Byrd intended ‘to content every humour: either melancholy, merry, or mixt of both’, are his last full publication, and it’s somewhat surprising that although there are several wellknown pieces here, the collection hasn’t before been presented in a single release.
The year 1611 must have been a big one when you consider that it contained Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the King James Bible as well as this songbook from arguably England’s greatest Renaissance composer. Despite advancing age, Byrd was on particularly good form, even by his own standards, running a strikingly wide gamut of emotions throughout this collection. It’s telling that he himself described the pieces as ‘some solemne, others joyfull, framed to the life of the Words’. So what better ensembles than The Sixteen and Fretwork to navigate us through the varying combinations of voices and viols that Byrd expected to likely be his swansongs? To perform this whole collection intact, The Sixteen have morphed from soloists and trios through varying combinations of voices to a full verse-anthem choir with viols, and along the way they have explored the extraordinary variety of moods and textures within.
These remarkable late works may be something of a retrospective: madrigals
E A L O V E G A
J A M
B E N
P H O T O G R A P H Y
28 GRAMOPHONE GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2022
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