A Watchful Gaze
Byrd: Tristitia et anxietas; Quomodo cantabimus; Civitas Sancti tui; Turn our captivity; Ne irascaris Domine etc plus works by Clemens, Tabakova, Van Wilder and De Monte
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CORO COR16195 73:09 mins
The 400th anniversary of Byrd’s death was bound to intrude on The Sixteen’s ‘Choral Pilgrimage’ plans for 2023; and the result, as the choir currently criss-crosses the UK, is preserved on this thoughtfully programmed album. Some of Byrd’s greatest works are contextualised and illuminated, with two specially commissioned motets by Dobrinka Tabakova. Philip van Wilder’s dark-hued madrigal ‘O doux regards’ prefaces Byrd’s Ne irascaris Domine in which the burnished sonorities are plangently intensified; Philippe de Monte’s Super flumina Babylonis offers comfort to the recusant Byrd who replies setting later lines from the same psalm; and, fine as Clemens non Papa’s setting of Tristitia et anxietas is, troubled and forlorn, Byrd’s is finer still.
Christophers’s juxtapositions are always rewarding, and The Sixteen is on ravishing form. There’s an unmannered generosity to the singing whose wide-eyed freshness enables Christophers to keep the counterpoint buoyant and uncongested, all the time sensitive to unobtrusively registering key words in the texts. De Monte’s enveloping eight-part O suavitas et dulcedo, exquisitely poised, is the perfect foil to the desolation of Civitas Sancti tui, the incarnation of Byrd’s recusant grief – its lower voice repetition of ‘Sion deserta facta est’ as sumptuous as it is heartfelt. And concluding with a performance of the Vigilate whose contrapuntal density is kept well-oxygenated, A Watchful Gaze is a quadricentennial tribute beautifully judged and exquisitely executed.