Ten powerful voices in perfect balance of sound gave a memorable recital at St Barnabas Church Great Tey near Colchester on Saturday as part of the Roman River Festival. The Armonico Consort under the direction of Christopher Monks performed an a cappella programme entitled ‘Naked Byrd’ which explored pieces composed by composers who, according to the Director, “wore their hearts on their sleeves”, writing some of the music in difficult circumstances. William Byrd, of course, wrote music for the catholic liturgy at a time when the celebration of mass was illegal. The programme spanned 800 years of choral music from Hildegard of Bingen through to the modern Morten Lauriden’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’, a Christmas Matins piece beautifully sung.
The representative piece by Byrd was the ‘Agnus Dei’ from the ‘Mass for four voices’ in a slower reading then I had heard before, but never lacking in movement and certainly not a forensic dissection of the parts employed. Other pieces of that era included Victoria’s ‘Libera Nos, Salve Nos’ from the ‘Officium Defunctorum’ and an arrangement by the director of Tallis’ psalter setting ‘Why fum’th in fight the Gentiles spite’. It would be entirely wrong to pick a highlight from the programme because all seventeen pieces were beautifully rendered. No single voice overpowered another. All blended harmoniously. Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ was emblazoned across the tickets (not ‘Naked Byrd’) and clearly was a big draw to the sold out event. John Tavener’s ‘Funeral Ikos’ and ‘Song for Athene’ were central works in the second half of the concert.
The ‘Armonico Consort’ have been formed for just a decade and are a highly sought after choir, which is small wonder judging by the wonderful sacred sound on Saturday. If the two CDs entitled ‘Naked Byrd’ are as good as the live performance, and I have no reason to doubt otherwise, then these will act as a marvellous memento of a warm October evening in the Essex countryside.
The Roman River Festival is an annual event now in its eleventh season. For more information visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk
Photo: St Barnabas Church Great Tey (pictured in 1985) inset on cover of this year’s Festival programme.http://www.romanrivermusic.org.uk