Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The easy part of the review is to commend another well sung release from Jesus College, Cambridge. Under the direction of Mark Williams we hear the Chapel and College Choirs both separately and in combination along with the Choristers. Accompanying them on the main chapel organ (built by Orgelbau Kuhn in 2007) are Bertie Baigent or Jordan Wong with Mr Baigent also taking the solo in Byrd's "The Queen's Alman", this time on the Sutton organ built by Bishop and Sons in 1849. In terms of performance and audio quality all is well and good and taken individually the items in the programme are also most acceptable. My problem is that I struggle to see why Byrd and Britten have been bracketed together. William Byrd (1540-1623) lived during the time of the first Good Queen Bess while Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was a New Elizabethan. So both have surnames beginning with B and both worked during the reign of a Queen Elizabeth. In his generally helpful liner notes Philip Borg-Wheeler explains that both men were outsiders, Byrd because of his Catholic faith and Britten because of his sexual orientation and pacifism but, personally, this fails to convince. What we have, to my ears, are two short compilations of choral music by two composers with too little in common with neither illuminating the other. I enjoyed both parts but only after I resequenced the playing order to suit myself. To go from Byrd's "O Lord, Make Thy Servant, Elizabeth Our Queen" to Britten's "Te Deum in C" was not sufficiently linear for me. Seven pieces by Byrd, including the organ solo, was not enough and while I also enjoyed the Britten portion, some of it is very well known. His "Missa Brevis", for example, is already in my collection and I really do not need another recording of it. If you have enjoyed previous releases from Jesus College this one is worth investigating although the wise buyer may first check the full track listing and, if there is too much duplication, make use of the download option.
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