The Marian Consort

Singing in Secret


COUNTER-TENOR Rory McCleery, who began singing in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, was – until the recent abrupt curtailment of all live musical activity – an extraordinarily busy chap. The small vocal ensemble he founded and directs – seven singers on this new recording – had dates scheduled as far afield as Japan, and he is a regular with the Dunedin Consort as well as a member of the more experimental Ensemble 1604, who brought Matthew Whiteside’s last season of The Night With . . . concerts to a conclusion and feature on the recently-issued Live, Volume One two-disc set.

Beside that group’s version of Terry Riley’s In C, Singing in Secret might seem conservative, but this “Clandestine Catholic music by William Byrd”, as the album is subtitled, was anything but at the end of the 16th century. The beautiful liturgical scores the Catholic composer was bold enough to publish in an era when the practice of the faith could lead to the gallows, are far from unknown, and neither is the fact that it was Royal recognition of his talent that appears to have protected Byrd in the Elizabethan age. However McCleery, whose academic prowess matches his musical talent, has created a wonderful sequence of the works, the unaccompanied choir interweaving four-part Mass settings with other pieces, culminating in the 13-minute six-part Infelix ego, setting a meditation on Psalm 51 by Savonarola which was explicitly linked to Catholic martyrdom.

Recorded by Delphian’s Paul Baxter, at Crichton Collegiate Church near the musical village of Pathhead in Midlothian, 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.