Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Byrd
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cantiones Sacrae 1591; Gradualia 1605 & 1607
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67779

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In this, the 13th and last disc of its Byrd series, The Cardinall’s Musick pays tribute to the whole landscape of Byrd’s genius with a passion that ends the project on a high. As with the earlier instalments, Andrew Carwood’s direction and programming are equally inspired. This time, however, it is the contrasts – rather than consistencies – in Byrd’s moods, textures and techniques that are explored.

The listener is taken swiftly from a delicate high-voiced miniature (Visita quaesumus) to the full-throated, madrigal-style Haec Dies to the old-style Afflicti pro peccatis nostris, based on a cantus firmus. The centrepiece is the searing Infelix ego; here, the recusant Byrd explores a martyr’s preparation for death, taking the listener through every emotional extreme before transcending the built-up tension in a glorious coda. 

The musical imagination of The Cardinall’s Music does full justice to that of Byrd. Unique about this ensemble is its expressiveness, whether members sing seamlessly as one or tug at each others’ lines. The group’s delivery is a sensual delight, as an individual singer’s colours will flash up in polyphonic lines, then pool together with others in homophony.

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The polish of this disc’s engineering matches the quality of its performances and the seriousness of its scholarly intent. My one quibble is that some soprano solo entries – notably those in Haec dies – end up sounding nervous while seeking to be playful. Such moments take nothing, however, from the grandeur of this reading. Berta Joncus