York Minster Choir, Robert Sharpe
Byrd Ne irascaris, O Lord, make Thy servant Elizabeth, Praise our Lord all ye gentiles, Tribulationes civitatum, Vide Domine afflictionem; Orlando Gibbons Glorious and powerful God, Great Lord of lords, O God, the King of Glory; Mundy Evening Service ‘in medio chori’; Tallis In manus tuas, O sacrum convivium, O salutaris hostia, Videte miraculum
This is a radiant recording of glorious music, sung by a fine provincial English cathedral choir right at the top of its game. The programme is a combination of unaccompanied works and those requiring accompaniment, is also a combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and is furthermore a combination of pieces intended for the Anglican liturgy, the Roman Catholic liturgy, and for domestic performance. Readers like me who prefer their performances to be historically informed will immediately wonder nowadays about a substantial Anglican male choir (17 trebles, 4 each of countertenors, tenors and basses) singing, in a generous cathedral acoustic, the three Latin pieces by Byrd, which were intended for domestic performance; but these works are sung with clarity and piercing intensity. Credit for these qualities goes to the performers for projecting their own lines while balancing and blending with their colleagues; and to the Director of Music, Robert Sharpe, for his judicious choices of tempi. I possess many (four and upwards) recordings of each of the Latin pieces by Byrd, and he and his singers do not miss or gloss over a single one of Byrd’s many harmonic or melodic or rhythmic felicities. The choir sang the first track Vide Domine, afflictionem meam as the anthem on a recent broadcast of Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3. It came over most impressively in that programme, and here it gets the disc off to the best possible start; the work concludes with a cadence that is stunning even by Byrd’s standards, and notwithstanding a field that includes three other wonderful recordings, York’s stands out, not least for their execution of that cadence. Another Byrdian moment to treasure is the fleeting prominence given by the singers to the open fifth between the two uppermost parts at the syllable “[irasca]ris” just after their respective entries near the beginning of Ne irascaris. Passing to works by other composers, in Tallis’s Videte miraculum they show they can shape and sustain a work of nearly ten minutes’ duration. At the opposite end of the liturgical spectrum, Mundy’s Service is incandescent, as is Tallis’s O salutaris hostia in a more pensive way. All three of Gibbons’s works are verse anthems, with seemly solos sung appropriately to the ethos of the music and the Anglican liturgy, underpinned by excellent accompaniments – understated but very much “there” – from David Pipe, not least throughout Glorious and powerful God in what must be its fastest version on disc! Byrd’s searing symphonic three-movement sacred song Tribulationes civitatum brings the record to an impassioned but dignified conclusion. This disc is a huge credit to the boys, layclerks, conductor, organist, producer, engineers and editors, not forgetting John Lees for his fine notes in the excellent booklet.