Released on 28 February 2005
With Emma Kirkby (soprano)
“Never such a bird” – this admiring homage to the ageing composer applies equally to this spellbinding recording. In his consort songs, Byrd successfully dignified the vogue for canzonet-style writing by combining it with the complex polyphony of the chanson and native English enthusiasm for the viol. Here, in outstanding performances by Emma Kirkby and Fretwork, is an excellent representation of not only Byrd’s aesthetic vision for the genre he virtually invented, but also its stylistic variety.
No soprano is better suited to realising Byrd’s ambitions than Kirkby. Her crystalline tone keeps her line distinct, regardless of the range or instrumental combination in which it appears. Her performances are guided above all by the lyrics, which determine the music’s emotional character, and Kirkby highlights the poetry of the texts through her crisp diction and sincerity. The dynamic range of Fretwork is stunning, its tone vibrantly rich and its careful paragraphing and sensitive response to the lyrics bringing these songs to life. The venue’s accoustic, excellently recorded, enhances the warmth and bloom of the ensemble. The imaginative programming shows Byrd’s breadth, ranging from devotional to bawdy, and avoids predictable choices in favour of unrecorded jewels. Of the the two other discs devoted to Byrd’s consort songs, only Robin Blaze’s rivals this one; in Phantasm’s recording the vibrato of the singer obtrutes upon the text. This recording is a benchmark for composer and performers alike.
Berta Joncus, BBC Music Magazine
These songs, beautifully sung by Emma Kirkby, are pools of serenity in the hands of these players, so rich in timbre, so steeped in tradition.
Ms. Kirkby has been an exceptionally eloquent interpreter of Elizabethan song since the mid 1970s, and…. her readings are so agile and communicative that it is hard to imagine this music more persuasively sung. Fretwork is in fine form as well, both in its accompaniments and in several instrumental works.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
“…dans les joyaux de spiritualité désenchantée que sont O Lord how vain et The noble Queen, “tombeau” sur la mort de Marie Stuart où Byrd est guidé par la plus haut inspiration, Emma Kirkby touch au sublime, portée par la force du sentiment intérieur. Les violes de Fretwork, en grande forme, lui offrent un écrin superbe, outre un précieux bouquet de Fantaisies, Pavane et Gaillarde en intermèdes.
Roger Tellart, Diapason
Catalogue number: HMU 907383