Chelys Consort of Viols with Helen Charlston, St Mary’s, Warwick
The perennially uplifting music of William Byrd featured in a programme bringing joy to a chilly November evening and upholding the standards of Leamington Music’s excellent Early Music Series.
The Chelys Consort of Viols demonstrated the pleasing tones of the instrument in all its forms in a selection of consort pieces, while mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston filled the church with some of the composer’s finest songs in marking the 400th anniversary of his death.
In a programme so dominated by Byrd’s fabulous song settings, it would be easy to overlook the instrumental contribution but, in the beautifully balanced and expertly realised hands of the consort, these pieces are so much more than mere interludes.
Sometimes as a four, sometimes five, the consort embodies the whole idea of balance, passing interwoven lines from person to person perfectly.
Helen Charlston’s voice is ideally suited to this material and indeed to the richly supportive acoustic of St Mary’s. Impressively controlled and always with immaculate clarity and diction, she works with the consort rather than singing over it.
The carefully-curated programme allowed a glimpse into many of the areas of Byrd’s life which fed into his music-making, religious worship, political rhetoric, a love of England and Englishness, loyalty to the crown and so on.
The breadth of Byrd’s creativity means we have emotions from contemplative reverence to nationalistic pride and, perhaps most appealing of all, delicately expressed sadness. It’s doubtlessly unnecessary to pick out highlights, but if the need to do so arose, the melancholy beauty of Come to see Griefe For Ever would top any list.
Byrd’s contribution to choral polyphony is often recognised in concerts featuring larger singing groups but this intimate, exquisitely detailed offering puts the smaller works centre stage and ensures that they certainly deserves their moment in the limelight.