The Big Byrd
St Mary’s Warwick
A vast church like St Mary’s can be a cold place at any time during the winter months, but the demise of its heating system presented a challenge to both performer and audience and in overcoming the conditions, gave us one of those evenings we will never forget.
A generous clutch of Byrd’s fine choral works and selected pieces from contemporaries formed an evening of sumptuous polyphony elegant and welcoming enough to warm anyone.
This concert was, in many ways, so unlike most recitals one would expect in the early music world. Performed as two series of pieces seamlessly joined with no break for applause and no let up for the performers, the presentation also featured the full company moving round the church to provide 360 degree sound.
The fact that it all worked, and worked so well, must be down to a huge amount of thought from the programme’s leaders and an equal level of trust from the performers. To present these incredibly intricate pieces at so great a distance from your colleagues requires concentration and an unshakably reliable central controller – which the entire evening had in the hands of director Christopher Monks.
As befits the title of the programme, the impressive ranks of the Consort were joined by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble adding some sparkling underscoring as well as featuring in their own right on some of the pieces. Very cold air and period instruments, not to mention the poor frozen souls who have to play them, often do not mix well and a few fairly tentative early entrances would have to be excused.
Wonderfully curated music performed without distracting breaks and employing inspired staging made this more a show than a concert and it succeeded on every level.
Pointless to pick out highlights from such a singular presentation but if pushed, Byrd aside, the pulsating, canon like pieces by Ockeghem and De Prez which brought each half to such a spectacular climax would be hard to beat.
Armonico Consort return to Warwick during the spring and full details of their programme can be found at www.armonico.org .