Complete Cantiones Sacrae 1575

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COMPOSERS: Byrd,Tallis
LABELS: Obsidian
WORKS: Complete Cantiones Sacrae 1575
PERFORMER: Alamire/David Skinner


This is the first volume in A Library of English Music, heralded by the disc notes as ‘one of the most important recording projects in recent decades’. But what is so important about yet another reading of this familiar repertory, much of which the Cardinall’s Musick has already recorded with Skinner’s scholarly input?

Perhaps it is that Alamire performs the entire 1575 Cantiones Sacrae, co-written by Byrd and Tallis, in its original ‘intended’ order, but this smacks of train-spotting; surely the liturgical calendar, rather than the published collection, establishes the intended order?

Skinner’s conducting is likewise overly studious: tempos tend to be lugubrious, the handling of words cerebral, and the build-ups liable to fall flat, particularly in Tallis’s Miserere nostri Domini. Extremes of both contrast and dynamics are typically avoided, even in highly charged settings such as Tallis’s In ieiunio et fletu.

This disc may please some through the beauty of its sonorities and its cool transmission of compositional ingenuity. Homophonic passages impress with their splendour, enriched here by the chestnut hues of basses William Gaunt and Robert Macdonald.


The clarity of line lays bare the ingenuity of counterpoint, no matter how thick the texture becomes – a formidable achievement in Byrd’s ‘double imitation’ motets. The lively acoustic of the Fitzalan Chapel is deftly controlled, although sibilants occasionally protrude. In short, this is a gorgeous, highly professional, but self-conscious and strangely bloodless performance. Berta Joncus