Byrd: Assumpta est Maria

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Assumpta est Maria: Propers for the Nativity, Annunciation & Assumption of the Virgin; Ave maris stella; Salve regina; Quem terra, pontus, aethera; O gloriosa Domina; Memento, salutis auctor; Salve sola Dei genetrix
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick; Andrew Carwood


In his Gradualia of 1605, William Byrd broke from the mournfulness of his earlier Cantiones Sacrae to create a breathtaking synthesis of contemporary and traditional musical forms. In this recording, the third of an on-going series, Andrew Carwood takes us over this watershed in Byrd’s Latin church music.

From the vast corpus of the Gradualia, Carwood has selected the Mass Propers – texts particular to each Feast day – that inspired some of Byrd’s best writing, with complex imitation enlivened by madrigal-style word settings. The Cardinall’s Musick seize on the subtleties and expressiveness of these settings, not always with complete success.

Carwood takes risks, creating lines of challenging length. His usual procedure is to paragraph musical statements by shifting the tempo or dynamics, rather than using pauses. In shorter movements, or in passages with strongly contrasting compositional procedures, the effect can be riveting – one is swept up in a seamless, unexpected forward motion.

Longer movements occasionally tend towards stasis, however, because the musical idea from which the sense of direction is derived gets lost. Even the fine sound of this recording cannot help the listener groping for a key gesture, particularly when textures thicken.


There are also a couple of weirdly hesitant openings in an otherwise-exuberant performance. Yet the inventiveness and depth of this recording outweigh its rare longueurs. Berta Joncus