Singing In Secret: Clandestine Catholic Music by William Byrd

In the turbulent religious climate of Elizabethan England William Byrd wrote — and, more audaciously, published — a huge amount of music for the Catholic rite, for services which he and his fellow Catholics had to celebrate clandestinely, in the private houses and chapels of sympathetic noblemen.

The cloistered intimacy of those occasions is reenacted in The Marian Consort's performances here, and their programme also explores the more coded ways in which Byrd was able to express his faith and his commitment to the recusant cause: settings of texts which had become associated with Jesuit martyrs, or biblical pleas for divine intervention which took on new, heightened meaning in these times of persecution.

Most moving of all is the motet Infelix ego, with Byrd weaving in homages to a still-intact tradition of Continental composers stretching back a century and a half as the text arcs from dejection and misery to repentance and finally hope made manifest in music of transformative power.

"This new CD from the excellent young vocal group brings together some of the most exquisite pieces from Byrd’s vast output, cleverly varied in pace and mood so you can listen to the CD straight through in one sitting without fatigue. Nevertheless there’s a prevailing emotion, best-described as a heart stricken grief mixed with a stoic dignity and fortitude. It’s struck with amazing intensity in the very first number … the thing that hits you instantly is the special sound of the group, which is soft edged and warm … a thrilling ending to a wonderful disc.”"

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

"The ideal consort for this repertoire, the Marians bring an intimate, individually passionate flavour to Byrd's Latin works. Nimble, lively vocal colour ... are core characteristics of this finely honed ensemble"

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

"an intricately-balanced contrapuntal tapestry - its motifs woven together with silken perfection, the harmonic colours responsive to the text ... McCleery's band of singers offer a sublime homogeneity offset by sharpened individuality among the voices ... just enough to inject a telling fragility into music that once had to be sung while watching one's back"

"this is an exquisite Easter release of profound music, superbly sung. Never mind the short-lived promise of floral bouquets and chocolate eggs, it is surely the ideal seasonal gift for music-lovers of any faith, or none at all."

"This disc includes a choice selection of motets defiant and poignant, opening with a movingly intimate performance of the anguished Miserere mei, interspersing the sequence with separate movements of the Mass for Four Voices and ending with a shapely reading of the great six-part Infelix ego."


"[there's] a heart wrenching intensity that captures the spirit of the time really well"

"This is a wonderful programme of religious music by William Byrd. Everything is sung with meticulous attention to detail and flawless ensemble and tuning. But let me not give the impression that these performances are mere exercises in studied perfection. On the contrary, the singing is full of feeling and spirit. Rory McCleery and his ensemble seem completely attuned to Byrd’s music and thoughts."

"The performance is immaculate, both in terms of balance between the six parts–not easy given Byrd’s bottom-heavy scoring–and subtlety of pacing. The famous climactic A flat chord is delivered perfectly within the context of the interpretation, and the dramatically swooping phrase in the superius as the work closes is audible even throughout the lowest points of its trajectory. What makes this a distinguished interpretation in a formidable field is its integrity: a clarity reflecting a desire to make every aspect of Byrd’s music clear, that in turn reflects the desire of Savonarola for clarity, or in his case answers."


"Absolute joy from beginning to end"


Producer: Paul Baxter
Release Date: 27 March 2020
Catalogue No: DCD34230
Total playing time: 1:01:25
Singing in secret: how William Byrd created his best work in isolation
Four hundred years ago, it wasn’t a pandemic that forced the English composer into hiding, but his religious faith.

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