Thursday, 29 October 2015

Glorious Byrd for Blessed Martyrs of Douai

A light drizzle was apt to dampen the spirits of those trudging along the streets of London on a mid-autumn evening, but they needed only to step out of the inclement weather and the rush, and into Westminster Cathedral for the perfect tonic - spiritual and musical.

For today Westminster  Diocese celebrated the memorial of the Blessed Martyrs of Douai College today, honouring those College members - religious, priests and laymen - who died between 1577 and 1680. I believe St. Ambrose Barlow, arrested on Easter Sunday 1641 and martyred in a most violent manner on 10 September of that same year, is among the martyrs of Douai, however as he was one of the forty English martyrs canonised in 1970 he has his own feast day (10 September).

Fitting, then, that the music of Byrd (three part Mass, Ne Irascaris, Civitas Sancti), exquisitely rendered by the lay clerks of Westminster Cathedral, was programmed for the memorial Mass. Oddly, it's not often that one hears the three-part Mass which is a shame as it's one of the most well crafted of any Mass in the renaissance repertoire. The Agnus Dei in particular reveals Byrd's incredible ability to make so much out of so little - a Master in the true sense.  

Happily, two of my three top recommended recordings of the three part Mass are available of Youtube - namely by the Cardinall's Musick (Carwood, ASV) and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (Darlington, Nimbus). The other recommendation is of course the Westminster Cathedral Choir's own recent recording (Baker, Hyperion). Here's to hoping that Baker commits more Byrd to disc soon - the Masses are wonderful, but Darlington's Masses were spread across three discs with three sets of propers and miscellaneous motets by Byrd. And Carwood and co have famously committed Byrd's entire output to disc across some 13 volumes on two labels (ASV, Hyperion). Hyperion may not be inclined to record more Byrd just at the moment, but two issues could be raised here. First, over half the Byrd cycle under Carwood is on a different label, and secondly many of the recordings on Hyperion didn't quite reach the heights of the ASV recordings (notwithstanding the final volume winning a Gramophone award). So an intelligently conceived compilation of some of Byrd's wider output could still be justified and would be most welcome indeed.  

At 1:38 - wow, what a remarkable tenor line