William Byrd was a Catholic in the service of an Anglican monarch; Benjamin Britten was a gay pacifist in second world war England. It never hurts to remember how many of the artists we end up deifying faced some kind of bigotry in their day. This album presents the two composers as a pair of outsiders, alternating works by each in a programme that illuminates but doesn’t force the parallels. Conductor Mark Williams opens with a Byrd anthem (O Lord, Make thy Servant, Elizabeth Our Queen) and closes with Britten’s youthful Te Deum. In between we get a considered performance of Britten’s Missa Brevis and Byrd’s sublimely introspective Quomodo Cantibimus. Though 350 years separated their careers, Byrd’s scraping harmonies often sound no older than Britten’s. The singing of Jesus Cambridge isn’t always sharply defined but it is warm and breathy, topped by excellent boy choristers and best in stately slow music such as Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus.
Byrd/Britten: Choral Music CD review – warm sounds, if not always sharply defined
Choir of Jesus College Cambridge/Williams
Kate Molleson is a Glasgow-based music critic. She studied performance in Montreal and musicology in London, where she specialised in 1930s experimental radio