Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae; Gradualia

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cantiones Sacrae; Gradualia
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
This is the tenth disc in the ensemble’s complete recordings of Byrd, but the first in this series with Hyperion. Production values are much improved under the new label, with earlier problems in balance and the articulation of individual voices now redressed. These engineering gains, and the artists’ freshness and conviction, make this recording a high-water mark in the project.


The sources here are the Cantiones Sacrae of 1591 and Gradualia of 1605, roughly bracketing the time during which Byrd quit London to reside with a Catholic family. Carwood reads this music as attesting to the composer’s commitment to his faith, with single voice settings and their attendant clarity of diction inviting us to imagine music performed secretly. His selections suggest not only the composer’s unparalleled technical proficiency, but also the anguish of a Catholic living in a Protestant society. The improved sound allows each singer’s independent musical decisions to emerge regularly through Carwood’s interpretation, while the warm yet clear acoustic transmits a syntax carefully marked out through rhythm and texture. Carwood’s choices can be odd – there is little punctuation of imitative phrases, and tempos are sometimes rushed – but he has captured the passion, delicacy and complexity of England’s greatest Renaissance composer. Berta Joncus