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Hyperion Records

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Portrait of Elizabeth I (The Armada Portrait) in the manner of George Gower (1540-1596).
Private Collection / Photo © Philip Mould Ltd, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67937
Recording details: November 2011
Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, United Kingdom
Produced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Engineered by Martin Haskell & Iestyn Rees
Release date: October 2012
Total duration: 42 minutes 52 seconds

'The singing is neat, clear and fluid, with beautifully elastic phrasing from the two tenors. The Nunc dimittis provides the sweetest moments in the Great Service itself' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The 10 voices of the Cardinall's Musick launch into the opening of Byrd's The Great Service—'O come, let us sing unto the Lord'—with a soaring joyfulness and clarity that sustains throughout this large-scale and elaborate work. Andrew Carwood and his group have won countless accolades for their series of Byrd's Latin sacred music. In this Anglican work, they achieve the same outstanding level of musicianship. The (female) sopranos have strength and purity at the top but an effective lightness, too, closer to the sound of boy trebles. The full ensemble tone is bold and energetic' (The Observer)

'This new recording is something special. Whether it's because of the sheer experience of having sung so much of Byrd's music as to have assimilated his musical language utterly, or whether it's simply the raw musicianship and cultivated intelligence of the performers, there's a clarity and intensity in each verse that is spine-tingling … here, as elsewhere, the latent energy of the words as made manifest in Byrd's setting is realized with the kind of skill and conviction that moves rather than simply amazes. Which is, I guess, the point of religious music' (International Record Review)

The Great Service
composer
SAATB SAATB (except Kyrie: SAATB)
author of text
Book of Common Prayer; Venite: Psalm 95; Benedictus: Luke 1: 68-79; Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55; Nunc dimittis: Luke 2: 29-32

Other recordings available for download
Westminster Abbey Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Great Service (Venite, Te Deum, Benedictus, Kyrie, Creed, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) was virtually unknown until its rediscovery by Edmund Fellowes in the manuscripts of Durham Cathedral in 1922. The earliest source for what Fellowes described as the ‘finest unaccompanied setting of the service in the entire repertory of English church music’ is in the hand of John Baldwin and dates from around 1606 which makes assigning a date of composition very difficult. It used to be thought that most of Byrd’s music for the English church was written during his time as organist of Lincoln Cathedral but this is too simplistic an assumption. The Great Service certainly sits firmly within the Elizabethan tradition of composition as established by Sheppard (especially in his Second Service to which Byrd makes reference), Parsons and Mundy. Yet the imitative style, the technical complexity and the way in which Byrd uses the various vocal scorings available to him (especially the divided treble voices) suggests that this piece belongs not to the Lincoln years but to some time later, perhaps the 1580s. For many choirs the sheer scope of this music and the lavish scoring for ten parts (SSAAAA TTBB) must have made it impossible to perform: few could have boasted sufficient numbers of singers for such an undertaking. There is perhaps only one Elizabethan institution which could have dealt with such a piece and that was the Chapel Royal; it may be that Byrd wrote it specifically for them.

Of the many sophisticated features of the Great Service, juxtaposition is one of the most important – verse singers set against full choir, higher voices against lower voices, homophony against imitation – all of which allows Byrd to have a tight control of the drama of the text. At the same time he revels in the full sonority of the ten-part scoring and fuses elements from all three service styles. The two sides of the choir (Decani and Cantoris) are pitted against each other in the manner of the ‘short’ services but not simply to provide variety but more often for dramatic effect. In the Te Deum Decani represents the ‘glorious company of the Apostles’ and Cantoris the ‘noble army of Martyrs’ and then both unite at the mention of the ‘holy Church throughout all the world’. Such full choir statements are always offset by more intimate sections for verses where Byrd will exploit the full range and colour of the voices, using three altos and a tenor in the Benedictus at the words ‘And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest’ and scattering the proud in the Magnificat not only ‘in the imagination of their hearts’ but audibly in the music.

from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2005


Other albums featuring this work
'Byrd: The Great Service & other works' (CDA67533)
Byrd: The Great Service & other works
MP3 £5.25FLAC £5.25ALAC £5.25Buy by post £5.25 CDA67533  Please, someone, buy me …  
'Byrd: The Great Service' (CDGIM011)
Byrd: The Great Service
'Byrd: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd' (CDGIM208)
Byrd: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £11.75 CDGIM208  2CDs for the price of 1  
'Byrd: Playing Elizabeth's Tune' (CDGIM992)
Byrd: Playing Elizabeth's Tune
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £11.75 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 48 kHz £12.00ALAC 24-bit 48 kHz £12.00 CDGIM992  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Renaissance Radio' (CDGIM212)
Renaissance Radio
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £11.75 CDGIM212  2CDs for the price of 1  

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