BREMF – ‘The Byrd Crawl’ – BREMF Consort of Voices, Deborah Roberts (director)

This was an experiment, taking an exquisite twenty minutes of William Byrd’s sacred motets to four very different venues in one day. They started at St Paul’s, where I heard them, freshly rehearsed and keen to go. The heading implies informality – but this consort is no rowdy group of carollers; they were together and polished from the start. ‘Laudibus in Sanctis’, a setting of the joyful Psalm 150, had the bounce and lightness of a madrigal. They continued with ‘Ave verum corpus’, perhaps of all Byrd’s works the most familiar to parish choirs. Indeed, I suspect that BREMF CofV could have performed it from memory; they showed how it should be sung.

‘Ne irascaris Domine’ (Be not angry, O Lord!) is a very serious prayer. William Byrd was a devout Catholic in the Protestant realm of Elizabeth Tudor and BREMF CofV managed to express some of his grief at the desolate state of England. It’s a sombre work with rich low tones and cascading phrases like tears falling. Jerusalem is desolated – a complex, heart-rending passage, was beautifully articulated. The concert ended with the sublime ‘Agnus Dei’ from Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, another well known jewel of the English choral repertoire. The poignant suspensions of its final phrases always leave one wanting more.

William Byrd

William Byrd (c.1540 – 4 July 1623)

This was a deliberately short programme which was to be repeated three more times, at St Bart’s, where they know the acoustic will make their sound glow, and then at Holy Cross Woodingdean and St Margaret’s Rottingdean where BREMF has not been before. By the end of some previous, much longer concerts these singers have sounded tired. At St Paul’s they were on their top form throughout, and I imagine they were still at their final venue. I do hope that they had enough audience with them to appreciate it.

St Paul’s Church
23 September 2023


Andrew Connal

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