Monday, June 27, 2005

Byrd Mass - without voices.....

Spent a recent evening listening to the viol consort Phantasm's new CD Four Temperaments. It is a wonderful disc of music by William Byrd, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Robert Parsons and Thoma Tallis. At the core is an extraordinary performance of the Byrd Four Part Mass, with viols taking the voice parts. The five sections of the mass are divided by in nomine settings by other composers. (The recording was made, incidentally, by the innovative independent label Avie in St Mary's Church, South Creake, Norfolk, not many miles from where I am typing this post).

In a recent interview on BBC Radio 3 the leader of Phantasm Laurence Dreyfusexplained how the playing of the consort was influenced by the style of the leading string quartets of the 1930's and 1940's. An interesting observation as the depth of string sonorities created by Phantasm had reminded me of the Griller Quartet sound in the Bloch Quartets mentioned in my post Brain Food 2.

Is a Byrd Mass arranged for viols legitimate? I don't think the question is relevant. The real question (as raised in my post Soli Deo Gloria) is rather do the artists have anything valid to say? Phantasm clearly do, I returned to this new disc from them time and time again. If you love the Byrd Mass this is a fascinating, and valid, new viewpoint on it.

I've been re-reading Peter Ostwald's controversial 'pycho-biography' of Glenn Gould The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius. In it Gould gives a defence of his piano reading of the Bach Preludes and Fugues which is equally as valid for a Byrd Mass played on viols.....
"The Well Tempered Clavier, or excerpts there from, has been performed on the harpsichord and on the piano, by wind and string ensembles, by jazz combos, and by at least one scat-scanning vocal group as well as upon the instrument whose name it bears. And this magnificent indifference to the specific sonority is not least among those attractions which emphasises the universality of Bach...One cannot, therefore, entirely sidestep considerations pertaining to the manner in which (the piano) should be employed in its behalf."

If you enjoyed this post follow the overgrown path to Diary for evening of 12th May 2005
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