WILLIAM BYRD MEMORIAL CONCERT
Ranged behind the 16th century screen, the twenty-four Stondon Singers filled the tiny church of St Peter and St Paul with the music of William Byrd, as they do every year on the anniversary of his death in 1623.
He has no gravestone, but almost certainly lies within earshot of the sublime music drifting out into the twilight.
Under their new conductor, Christopher Tinker, they began with the Mass for Four Voices – with a resonance the composer would certainly recognise.
After a brief diversion to San Marco in Venice – Croce’s jubilant Incipite Domino, and the rich harmonies of his Holy Week motet O Triste Spectaculum – it was back to Byrd, a contrasting group of three, ending with the apposite Sing Joyfully, beautifully articulated, like all the Stondon’s work.
In an illuminating juxtaposition, the closing work was Vaughan Williams G minor Mass of 1921 – the first English setting since Byrd’s time. The end of the Gloria made an impressively splendid effect; the sound world of the 16th century, the old liturgical spirit, was especially obvious in this place.
In each of the Masses, the Credo was replaced by a reading – the first performance of the Vaughan Williams by the Whitsuntide singers [ “fierce intensity made the music glow …”] and Byrd’s own creed, the merits of singing [“There is not any musicke of instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voices of men, where the voices are good, and the same well sorted and ordered …”] His Stondon soul would surely rejoice to hear his words proved so true by this excellent choir.
And the weather proved just kind enough for us all to join him in the churchyard for a convivial interval drink ...