The Song Company’s Songs from a Strange Land pays homage to the enduring brilliance of William Byrd while commemorating the quatercentenary of his death.

The seven voices of the ensemble include Guest Director and tenor Christopher Watson, who curated this program of 11 songs stretching from the Renaissance to the present. Its title derives from the text of Psalm 137 (How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?), set by Byrd as a motet.

Although this piece is not performed, these words are its theme and they do appear in Joseph Twist’s eponymous motet performed here. The words contemplate a challenging new world of shifting boundaries, alienation and loss. The historical circumstances which triggered these pieces still resonate today. Byrd, a devout Catholic, faced marginalisation in Protestant England. Further bereft after the death of his mentor Thomas Tallis, his music bookends this program with two mighty motets, the angst-ridden Tristitia et anxietas, and the acclamatory Tribue Domine. Byrd’s madrigal Ye sacred muses, mourning Tallis, sits at its centre.

Songs from a Strange Land in the Crypt, St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo supplied

Byrd was a master of word painting...