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Playing Elizabeth's Tune - Sacred Music by William Byrd

This DVD-video has three sections:

  • Peter Phillips directs The Tallis Scholars in sacred music by William Byrd, filmed by candlelight in Tewkesbury Abbey. The playing time is 72-23.

  • Charles Hazlewood explores the life and music of William Byrd, Catholic Composer for a Protestant Queen, and the troubled times that produced some of the most intimate and passionate sacred music ever written. The playing time which includes excerpts from the filmed performances is 69-16.

  • Audio-only performances of William Byrd's Mass for five voices and Mass for three voices taken from CDGIM 345 and his Tribue Domine taken from CDGIM 998. The playing time is 51-41.

To buy the DVD in the PAL format please click the link to Presto Music. A NTSC version is also available.

For the audio-only version please click here.


This is a beautifully produced DVD from Gimell and the BBC. If you falter over William Byrd then prepare to have those thoughts transformed by performances that are simply awesome, Byrd has surely never sounded so good! Peter Phillips directs his Tallis Scholars with wonderment set against a beautifully candle-lit Tewkesbury Abbey. The programme of the main performance on this disc consists of the Mass for 4 voices, Ave verum corpus, Diffusa est gratia, Magnificat (Great Service), Ne irascaris, Nunc dimittis (Gradualia), O Lord, make thy Servant, Elizabeth, Prevent Us, O Lord, Tristitia et anxietas and Vigilate.

The ten-strong Tallis Scholars, who bring a divine ambience to the performance in this very atmospheric setting, sing each work with confidence and assurance. The cameras imbue the film with further dramatic edge, keeping the whole alive and vibrant as they trace the choral feast and sampling the beautiful lighting techniques that lend so much to the performance.


Charles Hazelwood, famed, perhaps, for his recent series of programmes on Mozart on BBC Television, follows with an insightful documentary lasting over an hour on William Byrd. Without any air of pretension and in chunks that are easily digestible he makes Byrd's story interesting throughout and gives fascinating accounts of his life aided by commentary by Byrd experts who recount in a style that is fluid and never without point. The tale is an engrossing one and stands on its own as a documentary about a man whose musical creativity in such a secretive and politically sensitive era left England with a legacy of music that is hard to ignore.


If that was not enough, the producers have pushed the boat out with a further audio bonus, and by that I mean tracks from some of The Tallis Scholars previous discs recorded in Merton College Chapel, Oxford. Here we get Byrd's Tribue, Domine and the Masses for five voices and three voices together with ‘Gimell' from Thomas Tallis' Lamentations. We also get Palestrina's Nunc dimittis for double choir taken from their ‘Live in Rome' DVD performed in the magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. Fabulous!

David Alker

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