Welcome to our Festival blog

We are a small congregation who organised a highly successful 'William Byrd Festival' in May 2011 to celebrate the life and work of the village's Elizabethan composer, William Byrd (c.1540 - 1623). In 2012 we played host to the world-famous choir The Cardinall's Musick under their director Andrew Carwood.

This website contains everything you need to know about William Byrd and his links with Stondon Massey. The church is open for services, of course, and on the second Sunday afternoon in the month during the summer.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

New Recording of 'Great Service' by The Cardinall's Musick

In July 1923, as part of the London celebrations commemorating the Tercentenary of the death of William Byrd, an audience heard the first performance for some considerable time of the composer’s ‘Great Service’ at Westminster Abbey in the context of Evensong.  The manuscript had been found the previous year in the Library of Durham Cathedral by Edmund Fellowes who at the time was researching the music of Orlando Gibbons.  Fellowes later became Byrd’s biographer.  One of the people attending the London event was Canon Reeve of Stondon Massey, who knew Fellowes well and was instrumental in the commemoration of Byrd at Stondon Massey Church by way of a Memorial Tablet on the south wall.  Reeve described the Great Service as a “glorious effect produced by the 200 trained voices as the melodies floated around the pillars and arcades of the sacred building”. 

The ‘Great Service’ is so named because of its length and size in terms of choral parts.  It is set for two choirs of five voices.  There are seven “movements”, which are settings for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Communion Service.  It was one of very few works Byrd composed in English for the Reformed (Anglican) Church.  It was never published during his lifetime.

Joining the list of recordings of the work is one by The Cardinall’s Musick under their director Andrew Carwood.  (Available on Hyperion Records from 1 October 2012: CDA67937.)  It was a work sung at the opening concert of their ‘Byrd Tour’ at the Wigmore Hall in March.  Those who attended two successful concerts at St Peter & St Paul Church Stondon Massey on 2 September were able to purchase “advance” copies.

To my knowledge there are five recordings of the Great Service available.  I own three, so in ‘Building A Library’ fashion I listened to all movements back to back.  (I must add that I am not in any way a musician but like Byrd’s work, and so my view is one based on the enjoyment.)  The two discs not in my collection are by The Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips (2001) and a very recent offering (June 2012) by Musica Contexta on Chandos records complete with sackbuts and cornets.  Having listened to clips of the recording on Amazon I am not convinced about the interpretation.  Maybe I am a purist preferring those with organ accompaniment.

My three contenders are:
The Choir of Westminster Abbey directed by James O’Donnell (Hyperion CDA67533, released 2005).
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, directed by Stephen Cleobury (EMI Digital CDC 7 47771 2, released 1987).
The Cardinall’s Musick directed by Andrew Carwood (Hyperion CDA67937, to be released 1.10.12).

The King’s version comprises two trebles, three altos, three tenors and two basses.  Listening to the opening ‘Venite’ you are struck that this is a quieter, perhaps more introspective performance than the others and is presented in the Evening Service portion of the disc as a Service for Ascension Day.  The presentation is a little sweet for my liking, perhaps hesitant.  The ‘Magnificat’ is not the slowest of the three recordings but seems to come to a halt at a point just before midway, before continuing … “and the rich he hath sent empty away” seemed desolate; then another pause.  The ‘Nunc Dimittis’ is a little disappointing.  It’s pleasant enough but the diction is not as clear as the others so maybe the dynamic sound Byrd envisaged is a little lost.

The Westminster Abbey recording has a richer sound with organ accompaniment by Robert Quinney.  (Andrew Carwood writes the notes in the booklet.)  This is a lovely recording.  The final words of the ‘Benedictus’, “Glory be to the Father … “ and the ‘Kyrie’ are sung with real conviction.  The trebles give their all in the ‘Creed’, perhaps a little too much.  Byrd’s musicianship can be heard in the line of the ‘Magnificat’ with everyone taking a turn singing “all generations shall call me blessed” – related and inclusive.  When the “rich are sent empty away” we are reminded more in voice of the link with the preceding lines about the good things they have missed.  The disc’s layout is again in two parts – Matins and Evensong – with anthems framing the main work.  These days, of course, we can select individual tracks at will.  It’s a nice recording and recommended if you believe that only male voices should sing Byrd.

The Cardinall’s Musick is a quite different offering: profound.  From the off you are aware of the voices blended in ‘O Come, let us sing unto the Lord’, but equally the sum of the individual parts.  The organist, again Robert Quinney, provides a supporting accompaniment which is never intrusive.  If Andrew Carwood’s theory is right that Byrd intended the Great Service as a farewell piece to his friends at the Chapel Royal (according to the notes in the booklet), then you can understand through this recording how interaction between each of the singers work.  Is there a choral parallel with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Serenade to Music’, specifically written with sixteen leading British soloists in mind?  Mozart wrote Horn Concertos for his friend.  So is it not fanciful to suggest Byrd did the same for his friends?  Trebles in this recording are replaced by sopranos.  But if there is any notion that this is a less spiritual presentation because it is by an ensemble rather than a cathedral choir, think again.  The shortest movement, ‘Kyrie’ is beautiful and the most penitential of all three recordings (perhaps because it is the most expansive at 1’12 rather than 1’01 – a photo finish – for both of the other recordings).  The sound is very clear and listeners don’t need the text in the booklet to hear the words.  The crafting of the words “… according to the scriptures …“in the Creed is sublime.  Then the Evening Service starts with “My soul doth magnify the Lord” in rapturous joy.  A magnificent ‘Magnificat’: in the phrase “filled the humble with good things” – how good are the good things!  The words “... for my eyes have seen thy salvation” in the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ with the rising notes of “eyes” seems to lift the voice to heaven.  The five anthems at the end of the programme are hardly fillers.  Turn this up in your living room!  If this doesn’t win a Gramophone Award I’ll eat my Hymn Book!

King’s College / Cleobury:  ***
Westminster Abbey / O’Donnell: ****
Cardinall’s Musick / Carwood:  *******

Monday, 3 September 2012

Cardinall's Musick at Stondon Massey: Review of Event

Cardinall's Musick at Stondon Massey

The Cardinall’s Musick under their music director Andrew Carwood gave two concerts at Stondon Massey Church as part of their ‘Byrd Tour 2012’ yesterday.  The eagerly anticipated event was one of the highlights of a year-long programme celebrating William Byrd’s Latin work and the successful recording cycle by the internationally known Choir.  The first concert included the Mass for Three Parts and the second a number of Byrd’s motets.  Cardinall’s Musick’s members’ voices blended together in an extraordinary and powerful way filling every corner right up to the belfry with the most beautiful sound.  The Mass was interspersed with the Propers for Lady Mass from Christmas to the Purification and performed as a sequence without applause ending ‘Ite missa est’ (‘The Mass is ended’).  In the audience one or two were visibly moved by the music and many bought copies of the Cardinall’s CDs including a recording of ‘The Great Service’ which is not on general release by Hyperion Records until 1 October.

During the period between the two concerts – a prolonged interval for some who attended the whole event – Andrew Carwood spoke about William Byrd in context of anti-Catholicism which was sweeping the country at the time.  The music of the middle period of his life (1580s) is darker and perhaps reflects a time when he was under house arrest on suspicion of involvement in the Throckmorton Plot (to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne).  Byrd knew the ringleader, Thomas Paget.  A year later, in 1585, Thomas Tallis, his good friend and fellow composer was dead (“and music dies”).  Byrd appears to come out of his mid-life crisis through his friendship with the Petre family.  While other composers and Catholic sympathisers fled the country Byrd stayed.  He moved to Stondon Massey by the mid-1590s in semi-retirement where he began to write his very best and joyful music.  Andrew Carwood believes that ‘The Great Service’ was a farewell piece to his colleagues in the Chapel Royal Choir.  Although Byrd remained a member of the Gentlemen his visits were far less frequent.

The central work in the second concert was the Propers for The Annunciation.  Concerts in which conductors turn round and engage with the audience are always appreciated.  Andrew Carwood is both informative and entertaining.  One of the shorter pieces in the second concert was ‘Dileges Dominum’ (known to Anglicans as the ‘Summary of the Law’).  It is a Canon in which the first sings a number of notes, but is followed by the second who sings the notes in reserve: a kind of mirror musically.  Byrd clearly intended this in the mirroring the words “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

Andrew Carwood commented on the lovely acoustics the church has.

The focus of local organisers is inevitably turned 180 degrees towards the audience: ensuring that those who came had an enjoyable time and knew where to go for refreshments (in addition to the complex car parking arrangements at the small church).  Some who attended had never heard music of William Byrd.  Others were seasoned aficionados and knowledgeable about Byrd and his music.  We met someone who had just completed a dissertation on William Byrd – and had come from Dublin to be in Essex on a kind of pilgrimage.  Some had travelled many miles to Stondon while others were members and supporters of local choirs including the Stondon Singers.  Someone gave me an old newspaper cutting of Stondon Place, Byrd’s home (although subsequently rebuilt), which was for sale at that time for (wait for it!) £55,000.

The queue outside the church before the first concert stretched the entire length of the path to the gate.  The event was advertised as two concerts but for many was an enriching and spiritual occasion.  

Andrew Carwood and The Cardinall's Musick:
in rehearsal at Stondon
The Cardinall's Musick:
Sopranos: Amy Haworth, Charlotte Mobbs
Altos: Patrick Craig, David Gould
Tenors: William Balkwill, Ashley Turnell
Baritones: Robert Rice, Greg Skidmore
Basses: Edward Grint, Reuben Thomas 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Cardinall's Musick at Stondon Massey: Byrd Tour Concert #2

Sunday 2 September 2012: 5.30pm

Cardinall’s Musick, under their music director Andrew Carwood, are at St Peter & St Paul Church Stondon Massey for the second of two concerts dedicated to the music of William Byrd.

Laudate pueri
Da mihi auxilium
Ave regina caelorum [a 5 MS]

Propers for Annunciation:
Vultum tuum
Diffusa est gratia
Ave Maria
Ecce virgo concipies

Domine tu iurasti
Haec dies [a 3 Gr]
O Domine adjuva
Diliges Dominum
Tribue Domine

Andrew Carwood on Byrd

Andrew Carwood was interviewed by Mark Lawson for BBC Radio 4’s arts programme ‘Front Row’, broadcast on 5 March 2012. The interview can be heard online.  Follow: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00prl4h

Cardinall's Musick at Stondon Massey: Byrd Tour Concert #1

Sunday 2 September 2012: 3pm

Cardinall’s Musick, under their music director Andrew Carwood, are at St Peter & St Paul Church Stondon Massey for the first of two concerts dedicated to the music of William Byrd.

Mass for Three Voices
Propers for Lady Mass from Christmas to the Purification Vultum tuum
Speciosus forma Post partum virgo Gaude Maria Felix namque est Beata viscera

Miserere mihi Domine
Te lucis ante terminum
Domine secundum actum meum
O quam gloriosum