At the centre of what the Scottish Tourist Board today calls 'The Kingdom of Fife', is the town of St. Andrews, famous for its striking locations of the Bishop's castle and cathedral. In the Middle Ages, St. Andrews was at the centre of the diocese that spanned from Tay to the Tweed. The music on this disc takes us back to that golden polyphonic era when the ecclesiastical inhabitants of this city were not so closely linked to Rome. On the contrary, there were strong bonds with the Continental mainland, with a large number of bishops deriving from Norman households.
It is therefore no surprise to find that the manuscript, more technically known as the 'eleventh fascicle of Wi' used in this recording originated in Paris around the year 1230. What is surprising in this manuscript is the fact that it is full of liturgical idiosyncrasies stemming from the infusion (by local musicians) of references to Saint Andrew into the original Parisian repertory. These infusions strip the musical idiom of many of its intricate beauties much favoured by continental contemporaries, leaving a more direct style much more accessible to the modern ear.
Although the mass dedicated to the Virgin is not an exact reconstruction of what might have been performed in St. Andrews around 1230, it is a fair reflection of the type of musical culture that the cathedral cultivated. The normal movements of the Mass as we know it today are roped in with other musical texts brimming with subtle allusion displaying a knowledge that extends to Greek. All this recipe gives this Mass a strong intellectual as well as religious fervour.
Red Byrd are not new to this kind of repertoire and this recording will certainly enhance their reputation. Their singing is wonderfully mellow, noble and at the same time, devout, creating an atmosphere of calmness and reflection. Hyperion's engineers are to be commended as well for the wonderful acoustics and magic ambience that they manage to conjure up.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech