Byrd: Masses for Three, Four & Five Voices

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COMPOSERS: Byrd
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Masses for Three, Four & Five Voices
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood; Patrick Russill (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 206
The three Latin Masses Byrd produced for the English recusant community in the 1590s reveal a strong continental influence through textual highlights that emphasise the significance of individual words and phrases. The Tallis Scholars respond to this repertoire with lively tempi and a high emotional charge that boldly underline its urgent intensity of feeling. These new performances from The Cardinall’s Musick release the music’s native expressive potential with comparable tonal balance and vocal precision but greater emotional poise.

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For example, the ensemble sings the Mass for Four Voices a third lower than the Scholars, disposing the parts for ATBarB instead of SATB. And, although this creates a darker-toned effect overall, the increased contrapuntal clarity in the inner voices has real virtue, most notably in the colourfully descriptive account of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at the heart of the Credo. The situation is reversed in the Mass for Three Voices where The Cardinall’s Musick chooses the three upper voices instead of the lower ones, its serenely pure vocalisation exploiting the Fitzalan Chapel’s vividly clear acoustic to enhance this piece’s absorbing intimacy.

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The Tallis Scholars gain in brilliance in the Mass for Five Voices from sharper pitch and more reverberant recording. By contrast, The Cardinall’s Musick’s lithe counterpoint and richly blended chording persuasively point up Byrd’s potently expressive musical enhancements of the text, its sensitivity to weight allowing the score’s climaxes to emerge naturally. Meanwhile, Patrick Russill’s nimble-fingered virtuosity and well-chosen registration in the organ solos that introduce each Mass complete an excellent programme. Nicholas Rast