Notes and Editorial Reviews
Byrd, the chief musician of Elizabethan England, wrote and published liturgical music for clandestine religious observance. Among his most serene and pure works, these intimate five-voice masses are drawn from his second book of Gradualia published in 1607.
"Superbly true, ethereal performances." – The New York Times
R E V I E W:
Those who saw The Sixteen’s series of four programmes entitled Sacred Music on BBC4 will know that the music of William Byrd had both a public and a private aspect. For the Chapel Royal he composed music which most successfully adapted the pre-reformation polyphonic style for the Anglican rite but his three Masses, the Cantiones Sacræ and the
Gradualia could only have been intended for private celebration of the Roman rite. Such worship was proscribed, very strictly so after the papal bull Regnans in excelsis, releasing Roman Catholics from allegiance to Elizabeth, and the Spanish Armada had made all followers of the older rite potential traitors. Some of the Eastertide music on this recording could have found a place at the Chapel Royal as anthems, but the music for the Assumption provides for a feast no longer celebrated in the Book of Common Prayer and the Marian pieces were replaced by works more in accord with reformed sentiment at the end of Mattins and Evensongs ‘in Quires and places where they sing’.
The title Music for a Hidden Chapel is, therefore, appropriate, the chapel in question probably that of the Petre family at Ingatestone in Essex. Celebrations there would have to have been fairly low-key events, without the ceremony which would have attended performances of Byrd’s Great Service and Second Service at the Chapel Royal or some great cathedral, though the three well-known Masses for three, four and five voices, probably also written for Ingatestone, can be made to sound well when sung by a cathedral choir, as on the Christ Church, Oxford, recordings for Nimbus which I reviewed recently.
Christ Church choir intersperse their performances of those masses with music from the Gradualia; since writing that review I have been listening to these recordings again and I now feel that the items from Gradualia come over less well in performances of that scale. I have also been listening quite frequently to this Chanticleer recording – I mentioned it briefly in the Nimbus review – and have been feeling more and more that Chanticleer, a group of twelve singers, offer just the right proportion for this music. And what wonderful music it is, complete 5-part settings of the propers for the principal Mass of Easter Day and that for the Assumption, together with three Marian antiphons.
-- Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International Read less
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