Odyssean Ensemble’s next major project will be to record a début CD. The disc will feature the Great Service of William Byrd, a rather neglected work of genius, and some contemporaneous motets. Accompanied by a reconstructed Tudor organ (the St Teilo organ) which will enable us to step into Byrd’s sound world, the music will be interspersed with contemporary readings from the Book of Common Prayer, read by the actor David Suchet, as a way of transporting ourselves back to the period when this piece was written, and placing this rich and colourful music in an historical context. The texts will be drawn from the now defunct Services for Deliverance from the Gunpowder plot in 1605 and the Accession of the James I to the throne, both of which would have been events where Byrd’s music might have been heard, and which he may even have attended.
The Great Service encapsulates the canticles that were sung during the services of Matins and Evensong, which made up an important part of Cranmer’s newly created Book of Common Prayer of 1549. Odyssean Ensemble will perform the piece in a new performing edition created by Andrew Johnstone – an expert in the English music of Byrd – who is also writing the CD liner notes. Curiously, despite being one of the great artistic achievements of the late Tudor era, the Great Service is not especially well represented on CD, and Odyssean’s project will help to redress this in a small way.