Déjà Review: this review was first published in November 2003 and the recording is still available.

… in chains of gold …
Dunedin Consort
rec. 2003, Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian, UK
Delphian DCD34008 [52]

The title of this disc is taken from comments made by Thomas Morley (1557/1558-1602) concerning the behaviour of performers. In his treatise on musical practice he criticised members of church choirs for being more concerned to make their voices heard above those of their fellows, than in ensuring, by careful enunciation and more precise attention to the required notes, “…whereby to draw the hearer, as it were, in chains of gold by the ears to the consideration of holy things”. However, readers of this review need have no such fear, where the behaviour of the Dunedin Consort is concerned, for their rendition of these wonderful works is exemplary. Whilst I am not religious and therefore am not drawn to the same considerations, I am eager to hear more of this group’s recordings of similar works. I have always been struck by the power a small number of voices can produce in such repertoire and find it the most potent example of the voice as instrument, especially in works such as these that are scored for solo voices alone. So successful are these works that you never feel the lack of other instruments – on the contrary they would detract from the majesty that solo voices create.

The works on this disc are by two of the great masters of the late renaissance. William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. William Byrd (c.1540-1623) was born a Catholic and remained one all his life despite the constraints this placed upon him in an England where Elizabeth I had once again altered the official religion of the country from Catholicism to Protestantism. The three Masses he composed were all short in length so as to enable them to be used in celebrations of Mass where previous richness of ceremonial was no longer possible. They were all three published anonymously between 1592-1595. Byrd was considered as the equal of Lassus and Palestrina and his Masses are particularly outstanding in terms of their contrapuntal style as the example on this disc conclusively proves. This is music to make the hair stand on end regardless of one’s religious convictions, and for me this only adds to my listening pleasure. This Mass for five voices is the longest work on this record and Byrd’s music is also represented by some short works, organ hymns and an organ prelude. Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) was a great influence on William Byrd and when he died Byrd wrote an elegy with a text ending with the words ‘Tallis is dead and music dies’. The three Motets by Tallis are taken from the Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, (London, 1575). In them, as with much of the music on this disc, the so-called ‘English Cadence’ makes its appearance. It is a device which sharpens the poignancy embodied within the writing, and is characteristic of music of this period. Two organ hymns by Tallis complete the disc. We are fortunate to be able to hear these wonderful works that the common man of the 16th and 17th Centuries would not have had access to, for it was mainly the rich and powerful who were able to hear them performed.

All the works on this disc are gems of Late Renaissance composition and are beautifully recorded and sung by this young Scottish group which has also recorded Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Idomeneo. I have only two criticisms and they concern the all too brief liner notes and the far too tiny print used. On the back of the disc where the details of the contents are printed over a photo of a choir stall it is all but impossible to read.

Steve Arloff

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William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
Prelude in C
Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
O nata lux
Laententur coeli
Salvator mundi
Organ hymn on “Veni Redemptor” I & II
Mass a 5
Organ hymn on “Clarifica me, Pater”
Gaudeamus omnes
O sacrum convivium
Justorum animae