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GRAMOPHONE (05/2020)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Byrd’s Four-Voice Mass is coupled with the Propers for All Saints in this wellconceived programme, which imagines one of those semi-clandestine services in which Byrd was known to have participated at the home of his patron and fellow recusant, Sir John Petre. The monumental Infelix ego might well have rounded off such an occasion. This ‘recusant tendency’ is now well established in the discography, in the excerpts from the Gradualia by Ensemble Plus Ultra (Musica Omnia, 7/09), last year’s Great Service (Linn, 6/19) and The Cardinall’s Musick’s account of the Masses in particular (ASV and Hyperion).

The Marian Consort sing the Mass two-to-a-part, with Rory McCleery directing; he sings on most of the rest, which is done with soloists. In the Mass, the sound image combines solidity and legibility, a quality attributable to Byrd’s handling of texture and the generally placid unfolding of musical details. This music is mother’s milk to these singers, but the obverse of the undoubted confidence of these performances is a sense of over-familiarity – always a risk in music as well known as this. In the Propers and Infelix ego, where the scoring is bigger and the counterpoint typically more elaborate, intricate details are marginally less secure. The crispness called for towards the end of Timete Dominum (at ‘ego reficiam vos’ – ‘I will refresh you’) doesn’t quite materialise, for instance; I suspect that both intonation and incisiveness are just lacking that final pitch of refinement. This leads me back to the recordings I mentioned above, which seem to me to embody the affect sought here more fully and resolutely. Does it need restating that this music was composed in the shadow of persecution and collective risk?

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