William Byrd, The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery - Singing In Secret

Published Monday 4th January 2021
William Byrd, The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery - Singing In Secret
William Byrd, The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery - Singing In Secret

STYLE: Choral
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: Delphian DCD34230

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

In the turbulent religious climate in the days of the first Queen Elizabeth William Byrd (1539/40-1623) wrote and, more audaciously, published a huge amount of music for the Catholic rite, for services which he and his fellow Catholics had to celebrate clandestinely in the private houses and chapels of sympathetic noblemen. The intimacy of those occasions is recreated in The Marian Consort's performances here, and their programme also explores the more coded ways in which Byrd was able to express his faith and his commitment to the recusant cause in settings of Latin texts which had become associated with Jesuit martyrs, or Biblical pleas for divine intervention which took on new, heightened meaning in these times of persecution. "Miserere mei" ("Have mercy on me"), for example, was often recited by martyrs as their last words. Even more moving is the motet "Infelix ego" ("I am wretched"), with Byrd weaving in homages to a still-intact tradition of Continental composers stretching back a century and a half as the text by the firebrand preacher Girolamo Savonarola arcs from dejection and misery to repentance and finally hope made manifest in music of transformative power. Along with "Infelix ego" the featured works are Byrd's "Mass for Four Voices" interwoven with and around the "Propers for All Saints" but of course the listener can rearrange the programme to play both works straight through. Personally, I found that this unexpected sequencing worked well and the cumulative effect is most moving. As ever Rory McCleery and his Marian Consort sing superbly with their usual clarity and wonderful harmonic blend. The recording was made at Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian and producer / engineer Paul Baxter has done a fine job of capturing every nuance. For those who appreciate the musical world of William Byrd or who enjoy excellence in a cappella singing this is strongly recommended.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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