Byrd Pavans Galliards Pienaar Avie AV2574

William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
Pavans & Galliards, Variations & Grounds
Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano)
rec. 2020, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England
Avie AV2574 [155]

With Bach, pianists have ever determined his music too important to be left just to harpsichord or other period instruments. Not with Byrd. Daniel-Ben Pienaar’s 2-CD set of 28 keyboard pieces appearing in the quatercentenary year of Byrd’s death is its largest album presentation on piano, with 13 items, noted in the contents list at the end of this review, recorded on piano for the first time. Its title, ‘Pavans & Galliards, Variations & Grounds’ shows Pienaar concentrates on the two categories in which Byrd was most prolific. I consider 10 works, sometimes where I can compare other recordings, sometimes where Pienaar’s is the first recording. First, 4 Pavans and Galliards.

Pienaar’s Pavan & Galliard in C minor (CD1, tr. 1) begins with a Pavan of majestic beauty and breadth, the opening four chords spaciously arpeggiated. Then the ‘tenor’ voice becomes significant, the first of many such interplays with the ‘treble’ line. In the repeat of the opening strain (0:46) there’s added ornamentation as the melody elaborates more passionately into semiquavers and demisemiquavers. In the second strain (1:38) the melody is dilated into gliding semibreves and minims to more composed effect, the treble ‘voice’ only returning to semiquavers towards the end. In its repeat the inner parts become more sinuous and the overall feeling more relaxed. Pienaar makes all of this sound as natural on the piano as it would on the harpsichord, but also smoother. He begins the third strain softly (3:13), exploiting the piano’s advantage in this ability, as if surveying the experience hitherto, assimilating the sorrow and then achieving radiance in the climactic treble high G’s. The repeat, even with its introduction of semiquaver runs (4:04), also begun quietly, is then more relaxed.

This was the first Byrd work to appear on piano on LP, Glenn Gould the pianist in 1964, in Gould Remastered form of 2015 (Sony GO10003290606R, download only) a ravishingly beautiful account, more spacious and introspective than Pienaar’s though Gould times at 4:43 to Pienaar’s 5:04. How? Gould ornaments far less, though he ornaments well, partly because the Musica Britannica urtext wasn’t published until 1969. Also, Pienaar’s playing of the faster notes is smoother. In the first strain, Gould cherishes the melodic line, though his semiquaver runs in the repetition are nifty. His more majestic second section seems a retrospective gaze with interplay between the ‘voices’ crystal clear, its repeat more purposeful and finely focussed. His third strain, like Pienaar’s, begins softly but has a more eloquent, sadder gaze. Gould’s approach is a distillation of and meditation on the music, with a focus on the key elements of vocal interplay; Pienaar details all the voices and brings more sense of the dance impulse and thrust and yet sustained notes then have a feel of pause and reflection amid the movement.

The Galliard (tr. 2) is livelier and more robust, with more bounce from Pienaar and clipped shorter notes. His repeat of the first strain (0:14) is further enlivened by interplay between the outer voices. The second strain (0:28) features a dynamic tenor against a laid-back treble, while its repeat (0:41) has treble and bass merrily interchanging quaver runs. The third strain (0:53) Pienaar again starts quietly but soon revels in the two-semiquaver push to high F and then syncopation before gliding from high G apex and finally celebrating with an eight-semiquaver ornament towards the end. Pienaar shows the piano taking to all this like a duck to water. Timing at 2:25 against Pienaar’s 1:22, Gould’s Galliard isn’t sufficiently differentiated as a livelier dance than the sedate Pavan, but gains in the greater clarity and sad beauty of the interplay of the parts in the first statement of the second strain.

The Pavan & Galliard in A minor is surprisingly gorgeous: the Pavan of underlying sadness with enough gleams of light to allow also a calmness, breadth and sublimity in Pienaar’s presentation. In the second strain (CD1, tr. 5, 1:22) the soaring treble line is especially attractive, the melody flowing with a seemingly inevitable grace, its repeat with rich fioritura. The third strain (2:43) is memorable for its climactic top A. The Galliard is from Pienaar rampant verve, the repeats of all three strains with constant running quavers in either treble or bass. The opening of the second strain (tr. 6. 0:26) provides a brief period of tranquillity and the third (0:51) a secure sense of summation before the ensuing high jinks.

The Pavan, Galliard & Second Galliard, The Earl of Salisbury is well-known, perhaps because short and straightforward. Pienaar plays the Pavan with an easy familiarity, like welcoming an old friend. It manages to be both dignified and convivial, its first phrase confidently shaped, its second more freely spins a four-note motif between treble, tenor and alto, musing ultimately resolved by the Pavan’s second strain (CD2 tr. 7, 0:41) in which a five-note then six-note motif rises to a climactic E in the treble, briefly savoured before returning to the home A. In the Galliard the emphasis of its first phrase is on bold, rising motifs in constant interplay between treble and tenor voices. Its second strain (tr. 8, 0:25) spotlights falling motifs. Pienaar clearly enjoys spicily conveying the piece’s elements of a battle royal. The Second Galliard follows a similar melodic outline in a more considered, extendedly curvaceous manner, the dance thereby more polite and courtly. Again, the first strain glories in a rising motif, the second (tr. 9, 0:44) a falling one with an increasing flurry of notes in turn in tenor, treble and bass. In a third strain (1:29) falling motifs are ousted by rising ones. Pienaar measures the interplay between the voices meticulously which takes away something of the dance kick. Yet, timing at 2:11, he’s considerably faster than Kit Armstrong’s 3:28 whose focus on the overall blend renders the dance pulse more remote.

While the documentation of this CD set follows the familiar title of Second Galliard, Francis Knights and Jon Baxendale’s edition of Parthenia (Lyrebird, 2021) supplies convincing proof that this is really the Second Galliard for Mary Brownlow.

The Pavan was the first recording of Byrd’s keyboard music ever made, played by Mark Hambourg in 1915 (review). Timing at 1:03 to Pienaar’s 1:29, Hambourg fluently emphasises lyricism and flow, sensitive to contours and balance, yet his search for contrast leads to an overall impression of dreamlike musing when he fades the repeat of the second half of the opening strain and softens the repeat of the second strain.

The Quadran Pavan & Galliard are exceptional and critical writings see their structure in variations rather than strains. From Variation 1 the Pavan theme (CD2, tr. 15)runs almost seamlessly as the treble echoes the tenor expansively and lyrically, later on toying between soaring ascents and descents in semiquavers. Var. 2 (3:01) brings from Pienaar a bolder thrust of movement and semiquaver runs. In Var. 3 (4:26) he revels in the jollity of the first extended use of dotted quaver and semiquaver rhythms followed by more semiquaver runs. Here are also bristling triumphant motifs while the repetition (5:48) has more sense of summation and gracefulness in gentler dotted rhythms. Variation 4 (7:10) is given a musing yet always purposeful character, drawing strands together then celebrating in a marathon of semiquaver runs comparable to that in Var. 2. But the feeling is now of the magic of boundless freedom of fantasy in the breadth of statement and untrammelled changes of direction. Drama is abandoned in favour of lyricism in free-whirling exploration of line matched with density and richness of texture.

The Galliard (tr. 16), with dotted rhythms introduced early, has a jaunty progress. Pienaar enhances this by playing the eight-semiquavers’ ornament (0:09, 0:22) found in two early manuscripts. In the repetition of Variation 1 (0: 26), smoother rising notes imitated across the parts make for a calming contrast. Var. 2 (0:50) is more thoughtful and changeable, while its repetition (1:03), moving into higher tessitura, is quite strutting. Var. 3 (1:15) is still more confident, the treble reaching descant gleam, its repetition (1:30) rightly more swinging from Pienaar, anticipating its closing parade of quavers. In Var. 4 (2:02) the rising theme has more pride and it’s later accompanied by a shower of quaver runs. In Var. 5 (2:26) syncopation drives the swing while descents in the bass enliven its repetition (2:50). Var. 6 (3:12) more steadily, quite grandly, recalls earlier characteristics such as rising figures and dotted rhythms before chordal strength is invigorated by flares of semiquaver runs.

The second category for consideration is Variations & Grounds. Essentially these are both variations. When an opening treble melody is varied, the piece is termed variations. When an opening bass melody or maybe just motif is present throughout, not always in the bass, the piece is termed a ground. Now first I consider 3 sets of Variations. O mistress mine (CD1, tr. 15) is a well-known song in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the music setting of which was probably by Morley whose tune Byrd takes for his variations. Pienaar begins steadily to clarify the ornamentation and interplay, but he’s also both confident and relaxed. Variation 2 (0:54) has a gallumphing dotted rhythm featured in turn in tenor, alto, treble and bass voices. The change to flowing quavers in the second part brings a relief which celebrates the melody’s fulfilment, ‘Journey’s end where lovers meeting.’ In Var. 3 (1:45) semiquaver runs are exchanged between treble and bass voices, yet Pienaar shows this can bring refinement as well as energy. In Var. 4 (2:36) demisemiquaver runs abound and Pienaar’s fingerwork is amazing, yet the nimbleness of the reduction to semiquavers in the refrain, played softly, is satisfyingly jocund. In Var. 5 (3:27) the tune is challenged by boldly leaping, syncopated tenor then bass voices and then swirling semiquavers. But Pienaar keeps its presence shining unfazed. In Var. 6 (4:23), the coda, the tune is savoured in broad measure against at first a little spiky but gradually more respectful lower voices, save the tenor which pre-empts and thus emphasises the treble’s final climax and descent. These variations and Pienaar’s playing amply demonstrate Byrd’s capacity for reflection as well as pyrotechnics.

I compare Kit Armstrong recorded in 2020 in an album (review) whose 18 pieces were the highest number of Byrd’s played on the piano before Pienaar’s 28. Timing at 4:21 to Pienaar’s 5:34, Armstrong’s account is more virtuosic, glossing over the ornamentation and high-jinks. Beginning more softly than Pienaar, Armstrong’s opening statement is smoother yet feels more objective. He then makes Variation 2 contrasted in a louder presentation with the bounding motif eager yet more elegant than Pienaar’s. But his later quavers are more deliberate, missing the contrast Pienaar obtains in their flow. In Var. 3 Armstrong’s semiquaver runs are firm, in Var. 4 his demisemiquaver runs hectic with burgeoning effect, but not Pienaar’s grace. In Var. 5 Armstrong lightly applies the distinctive rhythms against a tune presented softly in meditative mode: this lacks Pienaar’s feel of fulfilment, yet Armstrong’s semiquaver runs shimmer delightfully.

Go from my window (CD2, tr. 10) is simple, cheery and folksy. Pienaar presents it with an attractive lilt and feel of cheekiness as the short theme gradually rises in sequences to climax and then quickly recover its opening position. Variation 2 (0:25) has constant offbeat disturbance from all the accompanying parts which Pienaar makes raunchy. Var. 3 (0:50) finds the treble more resolute against the other parts’ ever distracting showy quavers. Var. 4 (1:14) has these turning to semiquavers over which the treble glides serenely. In Var. 5 (1:35) the treble goes into a semiquaver brainstorm against the others’ melody chords and you feel gallant Pienaar only just maintains control. Var. 6 (2:02) offers the melody calmly sustained in the upper parts with the bass and later treble launching again into quavers and semiquavers. Var. 7, the coda (2:28), has the melody in the alto with the treble supplying a descant of noble poise. Pienaar makes it enchantingly effective.

Walsingham (CD2, tr. 13), Byrd’s longest set of variations, takes the song ‘Have with you to Walsingham’, referring to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, in Byrd’s time suppressed at the Reformation, today two separate institutions: Anglican in Little Walsingham, Roman Catholic at Houghton St Giles. It begins with a questioning bass phrase, affirmed and made steady by the treble, continued by the bass in the third phrase and then resolved by the treble. Pienaar presents with forthright engagement. In Variation 2 (0:16) the question is put with more ornamentation and thus import. Var. 3 (0:33) is more intricate with added cross rhythms in the tenor. You begin to note the insistency of melody and repetition, like a mantra. In Var. 4 (0:50), the melody now in the tenor, the texture broadens out more flowingly and with running quavers. In Var. 5 (1:05) the treble brings a descant variant of the theme, including running quavers, the first ecstatic time in the piece. In Var. 6 (1:22) the melody is repeated with an eight-semiquaver figure to raise the excitement. Var. 7 (1:39) imports busy running quavers, the accompaniment in the alto and bass bringing more animation to the search for contact with Mary. In Var. 8 (1:55) the tune returns to the tenor while the treble’s sunny quavers create a feeling of contentment and celebration of the vision of Mary, enhanced by a closing extravagant quavers’ descent in the tenor. In Var. 9 (2:10) quavers are constant, either in treble or bass. In Var. 10 (2:26) the melody is exchanged by alto and tenor, in the second part presented in syncopated form and the treble finishing with a brief, heady descant. Var. 11 (2:44) is quietly and intimately shared by tenor and treble. Var. 12 (3:03) has the treble leading in smooth running quavers while the tenor has a more sustained, laid-back version of the theme; halfway the bass takes up the quavers, vigorously from Pienaar. The interplay between treble and alto beginning Var. 13 (3:19) is starkly revealed by Pienaar, the treble descant triumphant above the other parts’ agitation. In Var. 14 (3:36) the treble theme is plainer yet equally resolute against tenor and bass simultaneous busy semiquavers which eventually treble and alto take up. Var. 15 (3:51), incorporating semiquavers both in treble and accompanying bass, is necessarily bolder treatment of the theme. Var. 16 (4:10) brings the innovation of the theme in crotchets in triplets in the treble, echoed by the bass, whereupon the treble takes up sextuplets in triplets. Here Pienaar conveys a new airiness and sense of fantasy extension of the dance. In Var. 17 (4:25) the treble returns to the plain theme the bass recently sustained while the bass explores the two triplet patterns of Var. 16. Halfway the two change places except the lower part is now the tenor. In Var. 18 (4:41) the tenor has the theme against some syncopated and dotted rhythms from the treble which Pienaar conveys with fiery dash. In Var. 19 (4:57) the treble has mastery in the dotted rhythms version of the theme with tenor echoing and a climax (5:11) seeming that of the entire work. Var. 20 (5:17) makes a sturdy confirmation, Var. 21 (5:35) adds celebratory ornaments. Var. 22, the coda (5:54), sports a gleaming treble descant before treble and bass bow out in a blazing contest of fioritura, honours even.

Pienaar breathtakingly conveys this work’s ever new discoveries and dimensions around the theme’s secure return as mantra in, as Pienaar has written, “its range of mood from sober exposition to ecstatic culmination.” That was written for his first recording of the piece, the first on piano, in 2018 in the anthology ‘The long 17th century’ (review). In the present set’s second recording from 2020, timing at 6:34 to 2018’s 5:53, Pienaar is less nifty and intimately reflective, grander and more zealous. Armstrong delivers the third recording, later in 2020, at 8:40, considerably more measured. His Var.1 is softer, meditative, Pienaar’s comes with a strut and twinkle in the eye. Armstrong’s Vars. 2-3 are a gentle accretion of parts and ornamentation, Pienaar’s all conviviality. Armstrong’s Var.5’s faster notes are suitably insistent, Pienaar’s convey delight. Armstrong’s Var.10 is more musing, Pienaar’s quite raucous in its vigour. Armstrong’s Var. 11 is dreamy echoing of parts, Pienaar’s more sober. Armstrong’s Var. 12 sports vigorous running quavers where Pienaar chooses well-oiled fluency. In Var. 13 I sense tighter interplay between the parts from Pienaar. Pienaar’s Var. 16 is racier. Armstrong’s Var. 18 is thoughtfully distilled, but Pienaar’s comes more alive, as is his climax in Var. 19 and ostentatious Var. 22 bowing out.

Finally, I consider 3 Grounds. Hugh Ashton’s Ground (CD2, tr. 2) is relatively stable, its chief interest a striking melodic line which Pienaar presents in fitting fervour while still maintaining the sorrowful dignity of its A minor ambience, secured in the opening statement, passionately expanded in the second (0:12) and enhanced by higher soaring in the third (0:24). Variation 2 (0:47) presents the melody as a stately descant, reinforced by the echoing by the tenor. Var. 3 (1:34) begins with the melody in its highest, most charged state of lamentation, with again tenor and now developed alto support. Var. 4 (2:18) calms down with a sustained descant line but Pienaar’s delivery remains taut. Var. 5 (2:59) has alto and tenor voices echoing the treble in a smoother, more distilled expression of the melody before latterly the treble breaks into quaver runs, furthering the progression to a more relaxed approach, confirmed by Var. 6 (3:39) with the treble’s extended running quavers’ version later passing to the bass. In contrast, the quavers fewer, Var. 7 (4:17) has a retrospective feel, so the sad ambience returns. But while the quavers dominate the second part (4:43), lightly delivered by Pienaar the sadness vanishes. Unsurprisingly, the quavers are omnipresent in Var. 8 (4:57), alternating between left and right hands. Var. 9 (5:33) mixes the tension of the original melody and dazzle of intermittent flurries of quavers. Pienaar brings a fiery quality to it, as if a climax is imminent. Var. 10 (6:11) obliges with running quavers in both hands but closes (6:33) with a first appearance in 9/4 creating a brief, lighter dance manner. Var. 11 (6:47) is back in 3/2 yet maintains the dance lightness, while its leaping opening phrase rigour in the theme anticipates a climax. Var. 12 (7:23) brings us the melody supreme but now with a triumphant dignity graced by flourishes of semiquavers.

Joanna MacGregor’s recording was published in 2014 (Sound Circus SC141204, download only,). Timing at 7:09 to Pienaar’s 8:26, MacGregor’s approach is generally of fleetness and lightness of compelling flow of projection. Her opening statement is quivering delicacy and careful attention to the echoing of the inner parts. Her Variation 3 has more grace. Her Var. 4 begins more purposively but then develops a lightness of spring. Her Var. 5 has exquisite tone of which her later tripping seems a natural extension. The running quavers of her Var. 6 seem almost merry in gossamer touch. In Var. 8 she gives them an exultant bounce. In Var. 9 she has a pearly opening and works a gently beauteous sad distillation. In Var. 10 her dancing energy from the start allows less of a contrast than Pienaar come the time change to 9/4. In Var. 11 MacGregor’s means of anticipating the climax is her firm treatment of the ground in the closing phrase. In Var. 12 she then hauntingly makes the melody supreme in its quiet contrast and clarity.

My Lady Nevell’s Ground (CD2, tr. 3) is another where the melody above is the chief feature. D minor is a grimmer and richer key than A minor while Pieanaar’s trills ensure the melody remains stylish, an expansive one stabilized by a repeated note at the end of statements which also confirms the dance essence. The introductory statement is first sombre but with a balancing milder second part. The second statement (0:15) is forthright with, in its second part, overt dancing with dotted rhythms. The concluding statement starts formal (0:30) but its second part flags D major light at the end of the tunnel. Pienaar tracks these twists smoothly. In Variation 2 (0:48) the dance takes over with dotted rhythms and syncopation and Pienaar welcomes it jauntily. Its second part (0:45) is rhythmically smoother but more joyous through higher pitch while running quavers continue the rhythmic relief. The third part (1:16) adopts and extends the opening strategy of the second with its second part (1:24) boasting two rising phrases of climax and fulfilment. Var. 3 (1:34) extends the running quavers and again the pitch of the melody rises, the treble (1:50) taking the tenor’s cue and the quaver runs becoming ostentatious tripping displays (1: 59). Var. 4 (2:23) begins by combining the dotted dance rhythms and brief quaver runs but, after an interlude of cross rhythms between treble and tenor (2:39), the quaver runs (2:49) alternating between treble and bass become the focus of excitement and greater freedom, continuing in Var. 5 (3:12). Its second part (3:25) goes into 9/4 for the only time in this piece, ensuring from Pienaar a really boisterous dance followed by quaver runs of more pep. Var. 6 (4:01), back in 3/2 time, offers a sturdier foundation for the next return of dotted rhythms and, given its steady authority, you realize this is the coda, a majestic, more elaborate version of the opening section parade of the extensive melody. That achieved (4:46), it’s time for lengthy semiquaver flourishes, deliciously lightly realized by Pienaar, like chancing on a byway of imaginative fantasy. I love the sparkle of his fast arpeggiation of the final chord, the byway terminated.

The Second Ground (CD2, tr. 11) is intriguing: a narrowly rising and falling melody, some fluttering semiquavers, then dogged four-note phrase. Variation 2 (0:31) rises a touch more purposefully. Var. 3 (1:02) descends with more assurance. Var. 4 (1:16) makes leaps apparent, sometimes through interplay between voices. In Var. 5 (1:45) running quavers are added to the mix, albeit of static, ornamental nature. In Var. 6 (2:27) these become chirpy, rising quavers. In Var. 7 (2:52) they are bolder crotchets sweeping forward, in Var. 8 (3:19) a shower of quavers, in the treble, then the bass, from Pienaar deliciously fleet of foot. These are halted in Var. 9 (3:47) by emphasis on cross rhythms yet quaver patterns still emerge. Var. 10 (4:14) is steadier and more savouring, recalling the beauty of earlier melodic climaxes, like the close of Var. 8 but here without the distraction of quavers’ backing. Var. 11 (4:45) aims for a comparable climax more speedily and with quavers. Var. 12 (5:11) shows a stronger, more affirmative melody with fewer quavers. Var. 13 (5:39) finds comparable strength through more substance in the lower parts. Var. 14 (6:08) changes tack again with a stimulating feast of running quavers’ backing always in two parts. In Variations 15 (6:34), 16 (7:00) and 17 (7:28) the challenge to the melody is cross rhythms but the quavers gradually gain more influence, so that in Var. 17 the melody’ s farewell is bathed in delicately fluttering semiquavers. Pienaar presents this eventful piece absorbingly.

Armstrong, timing at 6:59 to Pienaar’s 8:23, offers a more stylish, fluent interpretation. I feel he’s mastered everything and just have to sit back and admire. Pienaar is more active in exploring. His Variation 1 has more sobriety and deliberation, the four-note phrase stands out and there’s more sense in Var. 2 of aspiring to the melodic climax. His Var. 5 is a rugged movement of quavers where Armstrong’s are frisky yet always neat. Armstrong’s Var. 6 is sprightly but Pienaar brings more feel of freedom in his rising quavers. In Var. 7 Pienaar goes for strong impetus where Armstrong prefers a lighter, yet pacy, excitement. But Armstrong’s Var. 8 is a fast shimmer, where Pienaar’s has a lighter flow. In Var. 11 Armstrong’s rises are light but assured, almost a recollection, Pienaar’s have a more present thrust. Similarly, Pienaar’s Var. 12 melody has intensity of purpose where Armstrong prefers a quite stately yet smooth flow. In Var. 17 Armstrong’s semiquavers have dazzling power but not Pienaar’s newly discovered exquisite tracery.

Michael Greenhalgh

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Contents (*first recording on piano)
[MB is the numbering in the definitive edition of Byrd’s keyboard works in Musica Britannica volumes xxvii (MB1-45) and xxviii (MB46-114)]
Pavan & Galliard in C minor, MB29
Pavan & Galliard in G, MB71
Pavan & Galliard in A minor, MB14*
Pavan & Galliard in C, MB30*
Pavan & Galliard in C minor, MB31*
Pavan & Galliard in C, Kinborough Good MB32
Sellinger’s Round, MB84
Hornpipe, MB39*
O Mistress mine, MB83
John come kiss me now, MB81
Callino casturame, MB35*
Pavan: Canon 2 in 1, MB74*
Pavan in A minor, MB17*
Passamezzo Pavan & Galliard, MB2*
Rowland, or Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home, MB7*
Qui Passe: for my Lady Nevell, MB19
Hugh Ashton’s Ground, or Tregian’s Ground, MB20
My Lady Nevell’s Ground, MB57*
Pavan & Galliard: Sir William Petre, MB3
Galliard: Mistress Mary Brownlow, MB34*
Pavan, Galliard & Second Galliard: The Earl of Salisbury, MB15
Go from my Window, MB79*
The Second Ground, MB42
The Woods so Wild, MB85
Walsingham, MB8
The Bells, MB38
Quadran Pavan & Galliard, MB70*
The Carman’s Whistle, MB36