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A collection of Byrd consort songs with Helen Charlston has been a major desideratum since she first hit the headlines – really only about two years ago. She can give life to a line like few others; her diction is marvellous, and marvellously varied; everything flows with incomparable beauty. And what we have here is a tribute to Byrd on the fourth centenary of his death: a lovely selection of some of his finest songs interspersed with a well-chosen selection of his music for viol consort. This is all assembled with care and discrimination, and simply listening through the disc is an unalloyed pleasure. There is also a spirited and readable note by Alison Kinder, one of the players.
Not that this is the perfect issue, however. There is a slight dislocation between Charlston’s energetic singing and the thoroughly restrained performance of the viols: she is considerably louder and with far more vibrato in her voice. And she is occasionally challenged by the lowest pitches at the low pitch-standard of A=415. There are also occasional unclear moments among the inner viols: quicker notes can get swallowed up, especially in the up-speed reading of the five-voice ‘Browning’ variations (there are quicker versions, but even this tempo rather shortchanges the music). In fact I suppose I prefer a more articulated reading in general for the viol consorts. But in terms of what the musicians are aiming to do, they do it very well indeed.
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