To mark the 400th anniversary year of William Byrd’s death in 1623, Brilliant Classics has brought out the composer’s complete My Ladye Nevells Booke, splendidly interpreted by Pieter-Jan Belder. Those who enjoyed Belder’s forthright and imaginatively ornamented Byrd performances in his complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book survey will know what to expect. He favors less agogic manipulation and more conservative rhythmic continuity compared to Hyperion’s Davitt Moroney. However, a palpable sense of controlled freedom informs Belder’s subtle placement of cadences and phrase endings and his flexibly articulated ornaments.
His intelligent tempo choices usually insure unity and continuity: For example, Belder begins the familiar The Carman’s Whistle with an understated lilt that allows the progressively complex variations room to breathe and to gather momentum. Similarly, sustained and detached phrases interact with conversational ease throughout Will Yow Walke the Woods Soe Wylde. Belder brilliantly sustains the nine-minute Have with you to Walsingham by virtue of strong rhythmic underpinning, an assured left hand, and lots of variety in articulation. If certain Pavanes benefit more from Moroney’s poetic leeway, there’s much to be said for Belder’s delicate registration and astute harmonic pointing in the Eighth Pavane or his jauntily percussive Fifth Galliard.
I must admit the clear yet close-up sonics can fatigue over long listening stretches, so it’s best to absorb the music in small doses. Highly recommended.