Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Byrd - The Great Service - Musica Contexta/Devine

Rating: 3/3

Not really for me

This is an attempt to reconstruct Byrd's Great Service as it may have been performed in the Chapel Royal in the early 17th Century. Steven Devine presents good evidence for his choices and is honest about what is speculative, so it's a perfectly valid idea. Sadly, for me it doesn't really come off.

The Great Service (referring to its size rather than being a grandiose claim of musical brilliance) is a fine work, full of Byrd's trademark melodic gift and harmonic inventiveness. I have loved the work ever since I bought The Tallis Scholars' magnificent recording getting on for 20 years ago. That is an a capella performance which brings out all the beauty and passion of Byrd's setting of these English words and I was looking forward to this much larger-scale setting including instruments of the time. For me, though, much of the beauty and passion is missing here.

Part of the difficulty is the scale of things. There is a bit of a Wall Of Sound feel quite a lot of the time, so the complex textures which give the music much of its beauty are rather lost. The sound is attractive but lacks much delicacy or subtlety, not helped by occasional insecure tuning among the instruments, and it all gets a bit samey.

I'm sorry to be critical of a worthy project by respected musicians, but this really doesn't get to the heart of Byrd for me and I'll be sticking to The Tallis Scholars.

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