Musica Contexta / Steven Devine / English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble

Byrd: The Great Service in the Chapel Royal

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This is an unusual recording of William Byrd's choral music for several reasons. First, it involves the Great Service, an Anglican work (nobody's first choice with the Catholic Byrd), and an amorphous and not terribly often recorded one at that. Second, the singers of Musica Contexta perform with a hypothesized period English pronunciation that may well be authentic but takes a bit of getting used to. The Service is filled out with organ versions of Byrd motets in an attempt to give it not its original form, but at least something of the flow it would have had in performance. And most unusual of all is the intrusion of instruments, in the form of the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, into the pristine world of Renaissance. This rests, as annotator Simon Ravens admits, on largely circumstantial musicology: the three cathedrals where manuscripts of the Great Service exist had cornetts and sackbuts in their collections, and the Chapel Royal would certainly have had them at its disposal. The work has been performed with organ accompaniment, but probably never with the Renaissance wind group heard here, which divides itself effectively into loud and soft subgroups. The recording in no way definitively solves the problem of how this work is to be performed, but it's defensible and well worth hearing for Byrd's admirers. The musical effect will largely depend on how you hear the music itself: did Byrd sign on emotionally to the Anglican service, or was he going through the motions? If the former, the instruments will underscore a grand manner in his music that was unique for his era. The engineering at London's St. John's Church is attractive, but it tends to overwhelm the texts, which are going to be hard enough in this reading for even native English speakers to understand.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 1:12
The Great Service
2 5:13 Amazon
3 1:54
The Great Service
4 9:35 Amazon
5 9:17 Amazon
6 2:42 Amazon
7 3:50
The Great Service
8 0:54 Amazon
9 1:14
The Great Service
10 5:37 Amazon
11 3:34
12 3:11
The Great Service
13 9:27 Amazon
14 2:04
The Great Service
15 5:02 Amazon
16 2:29 Amazon
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