10 Jan 2013

Where late the sweet birds sang: Parsons, White & Byrd


directed by Philip Cave

CKD 417 (Linn Records)

The astonishing variety of Elizabethan vocal music is well represented on this new disc from Philip Cave and Magnificat and the considered selection of Latin texts, which push the stylistic boundaries, is a neat reminder of how composers were slow to be convinced of Protestantism's permanence.

All but one of the editions heard here are by Sally Dunkley who opts for low pitch rather than the dazzling upwards transposition pioneered by David Wulstan in the 60s. Such low pitch combined with a countertenor-free vocal ensemble creates a rich and velvety bed of polyphony made further luxurious by Cave's unhurried tempi. The performances tread a skilful balance between forward momentum and the thoughtful phrasing which is a particularly associated with this group. The results are exquisitely melancholic. Byrd’s astonishing Quomodo Cantabimus is superb and Parson's famous Ave Maria is a particular triumph. Delicious.

Written for Early Music Today Magazine, January 2013.