Notes and Editorial Reviews
William Byrd is better known for music reflecting his staunch adherence to his Catholic faith, but he composed a smaller amount of music for the Anglican liturgy. The most elaborate of these works, the Great Service (a term that characterized its musical style), was most probably written for the Chapel Royal during his service there; then it was revived in the early 17th century before the Puritan revolution. It was only discovered in manuscript in 1922 at Durham Cathedral (one of several places that favored elaborate music in the reign of Charles I) by the great proponent of early church music, Edmund Fellowes, and it was first performed in 1924. Though its superior musical quality is recognized, it has been recorded in its entirety only
three times before this. First came a mono LP made by Paul Callaway with a chamber chorus in Washington and released by Vanguard. Another (omitting the minor setting of Kyrie) was made under Peter Phillips (10:6), and then, soon after, a third under Stephen Cleobury (11:2), so this is only the second version with boys and men from an Anglican establishment. All three CDs have fillers, and all three include O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth and Sing joyfully.
This is one of O’Donnell’s first two CDs since he moved down the road from the Catholic cathedral in 1999. He was in his sixth year of service there before he committed any music to disc, and his training of the choir has borne fruit. At best, the choral voices are full and firm, though in solo or exposed passages the boys occasionally betray the insecurity that is more typical of lesser choirs. His predecessor Martin Neary had come from Winchester Cathedral, and Simon Preston, before him, had come from Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. Both worked valiantly to raise the level of a choir that seemed to hold onto traditions that resisted their best efforts. Now O’Donnell may succeed. Where Cleobury filled his disc with liturgical music to fill out the Great Service, O’Donnell accomplishes the same end by using Byrd’s anthems and organ voluntaries rather than service music. The result is a more interesting musical program. This is a fine start of a new series.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
Works on This Recording
Great Service by William Byrd
Robert Quinney (Organ)
Westminster Abbey Choir
Written: by 1590; England
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