Consortium: Byrd Song

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Published: 7th August, 2019

A program of exactly an hour at 6 pm on a weekday is proving a very successful format for concerts in the Primrose Potter Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Byrd Song was a wonderful way to become immersed in another world altogether between work and dinner.

Consortium is a consort of viols – five viola da gamba players, with soprano Roberta Diamond. Laura Moore, Reidun Turner, Laura Vaughan, Victoria Watts and Ruth Wilkinson are all very well known in the early music scene in various ensembles, but here they form a tight group of like minds and hearts.

Consortium here presented a selection of items by Renaissance era composer William Byrd. Songs such as My Mind to Me a Kingdom is, Oh Lord, how Vain, Though Amaryllis Dance in Green, Out of the Orient Crystal Skies, and He that All Earthly Pleasure Scorns were interspersed with dance movements of the period such as Pavan and Galliard, and the variation forms that are a kind of composer research of the period.

Roberta Diamond showed just the right balance of lightness and expressive colour for the repertoire and balanced beautifully with the dynamic range of the ensemble. The Salon itself is an ideal space for experiencing this intimate style of performance. To begin with it was easy to simply be swept up in the rich plummy tone of the ensemble and be transported back several hundred years, but this concert invited more than the merely sensory.

With the sameness of tonal resources throughout the hour, I found my focus went in three directions: the range of compositional devices employed by Byrd, the poetry in the texts and the setting of those lyrics to melodic shapes. For this reason too, it was very much appreciated that the song lyrics were provided in a program to enhance the contemplation of these and their settings. It is interesting in a concert such as this that the performers to a degree become transparent – we are focused on the beauty in the writing itself. These performers are truly performing in the service of the composer.

The room was quite full – a mixture of early music fans and the steady audience that this Melbourne Recital Centre program has attracted. There were calls for “More!” at the end, but of course to indulge this would delay the next event in that very busy space. It was interesting to see how many from the concert dined immediately after in the adjacent restaurants.

I find that the nature of this kind of music in a presentation such as this sensitises one to the intricacies of sound – and the one-hour presentation was just the right amount for this musical refreshment.


Peter Hurley reviewed Byrd Song, presented by Melbourne Recital Centre and Consortium, in the Primrose Potter Salon on July 8, 2019.