Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stondon Massey: Cardinall's Musick on 'Byrd Tour'

Cardinall's Musick
at St Peter & St Paul Church
Stondon Massey

The Cardinall’s Musick under their music director Andrew Carwood gave two concerts at Stondon Massey Church as part of their ‘Byrd Tour 2012’ on Sunday (2 September).  The eagerly anticipated event was one of the highlights of a year-long programme celebrating William Byrd’s Latin work and the successful recording cycle by the internationally known Choir.  The first concert included the Mass for Three Parts and the second a number of Byrd’s motets.  Cardinall’s Musick’s members’ voices blended together in an extraordinary and powerful way filling every corner right up to the belfry with the most beautiful sound.  The Mass was interspersed with the Propers for Lady Mass from Christmas to the Purification and performed as a sequence without applause ending ‘Ite missa est’ (‘The Mass is ended’).  In the audience one or two were visibly moved by the music and many bought copies of the Cardinall’s CDs including a recording of ‘The Great Service’ which is not on general release by Hyperion Records until 1 October.

During the period between the two concerts – a prolonged interval for some who attended the whole event – Andrew Carwood spoke about William Byrd in context of anti-Catholicism which was sweeping the country at the time.  The music of the middle period of his life (1580s) is darker and perhaps reflects a time when he was under house arrest on suspicion of involvement in the Throckmorton Plot (to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne).  Byrd knew the ringleader, Thomas Paget.  A year later, in 1585, Thomas Tallis, his good friend and fellow composer was dead (“and music dies”).  Byrd appears to come out of his mid-life crisis through his friendship with the Petre family.  While other composers and Catholic sympathisers fled the country Byrd stayed.  He moved to Stondon Massey by the mid-1590s in semi-retirement where he began to write his very best and joyful music.  Andrew Carwood believes that ‘The Great Service’ was a farewell piece to his colleagues in the Chapel Royal Choir.  Although Byrd remained a member of the Gentlemen his visits were far less frequent.

The central work in the second concert was the Propers for The Annunciation.  Concerts in which conductors turn round and engage with the audience are always appreciated.  Andrew Carwood is both informative and entertaining.  One of the shorter pieces in the second concert was ‘Dileges Dominum’ (known to Anglicans as the ‘Summary of the Law’).  It is a Canon in which the first sings a number of notes, but is followed by the second who sings the notes in reserve: a kind of mirror musically.  Byrd clearly intended this in the mirroring the words “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

Andrew Carwood commented on the lovely acoustics the church has.

The focus of local organisers is inevitably turned 180 degrees towards the audience: ensuring that those who came had an enjoyable time and knew where to go for refreshments (in addition to the complex car parking arrangements at the small church).  Some who attended had never heard music of William Byrd.  Others were seasoned aficionados and knowledgeable about Byrd and his music.  We met someone who had just completed a dissertation on William Byrd – and had come from Dublin to be in Essex on a kind of pilgrimage.  Some had travelled many miles to Stondon while others were members and supporters of local choirs including the Stondon Singers.  Someone gave me an old newspaper cutting of Stondon Place, Byrd’s home (although subsequently rebuilt), which was for sale at that time for (wait for it!) £55,000.

The queue outside the church before the first concert stretched the entire length of the path to the gate.  The event was advertised as two concerts but for many was an enriching and spiritual occasion.  

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