reprinted by permission. Written by Bernard D. Sherman
March 12, 2000

Recordings:

William Byrd The Complete Keyboard Music
Davitt Moroney, keyboards
Hyperion CDA66551/9 (seven discs for the price of five)

Shakespeare's greatest musical contemporary, William Byrd, is not exactly undervalued today; he's generally ranked among the supreme composers. But if his vocal music is celebrated, his keyboard works have been relatively neglected. Many of them went unrecorded throughout the 20th century - until its very end, which has brought this set containing every last one of them.

The music ranges from the deeply serious to the jolly, sometimes within a single piece. There are liturgical works, far-ranging fantasies, inventive variation sets on popular Elizabethan songs, ambitious pavans, other dances, grounds, and much else. If not all of it is first rank, most of it is appealing, and much of it is extraordinary. Masterworks like the organ fantasy "Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la" (disc 3) are not just for specialists.

But let's give thanks for specialists. Davitt Moroney worked on this set for over 15 years, and his long immersion pays off. His feeling for larger shapes makes the free works cohere, and he nimbly clarifies the counterpoint. He pays particular attention to Byrd's gravitas, but the joyous moments come through as well. He brings out the color and charm of the period instruments with unwavering musicality, using no fewer than six of them, including two organs, two harpsichords, a clavichord, and a virginal with a rich, lute-like sound.

Moroney's liner notes - 100 pages in English, plus a French translation - constitute a miniature book, with generous background and a discussion of each work. It typifies both the thoroughness and the quality of the whole production.

-Bernard D. Sherman [click here to go to my reprinted articles directory]