musica Dei donum
William Byrd: Three Masses
Dir.: Mary Jane Newman
rec: March/May 1999, Bedford, NY, St Matthew's Episcopal Church
Centaur - CRC 2471 (64'57")
Mass for 3 voices; Mass for 4 voices; Mass for 5 voices
There are several recordings of Byrd's three masses available. I can't see any
reason for another one, and certainly not this one. Some strange decisions have
been taken as far as the performance practice is concerned.
That starts with the decision to perform these masses with 11 to 14 singers.
William Byrd composed his three masses for 3, 4 and 5 voices respectively
between 1592 and 1595. In that time it was forbidden to compose or publish
music for the Roman Catholic liturgy. Nevertheless, these masses were
published. Byrd's reputation was such that he wasn't fined or jailed for it.
But since the Roman Catholics weren't allowed to celebrate masses in public, it
is very likely they were performed in the home of Sir John Petrie, the leader
of the Catholic community. And that means that they must have been sung with
very few singers, perhaps even with one voice per part. This is written in the
booklet. So then why are these masses performed by a choir?
Even if that could be accepted, the performance of the 3-part Mass certainly
can't. One of the features of this mass is the concise character of the
Kyrie. The three sections - Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie
eleison - are reduced by Byrd to one phrase each. So the decision to sing all
three of them twice destroys this special character. If Byrd would have wanted
this he would have asked for it. But it gets even worse: in the repeat of the
Christe section, the sopranos get involved by doubling the tenor part. And
later in the mass the same thing is done, without any pattern. This practice
fundamentally changes the whole character of this work. Byrd hasn't written
this mass for lower voices for no reason.
In view of this it doesn't really matter that the performance as such is a
little boring and lacks expression. This CD can't be recommended.
Johan van Veen (© 2002)