BYRD: Laudibus in sanctis = selections from Cantiones Sacrae (1591) and Gradualia (1605) – The Cardinall’s Musick/ Andrew Carwood, conductor – Hyperion

by | Feb 8, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BYRD: Laudibus in sanctis = selections from Cantiones Sacrae (1591) and Gradualia (1605) – The Cardinall’s Musick/ Andrew Carwood, conductor – Hyperion CDA67568, 69:45 ****:

William Byrd—clearly the preeminent composer of his generation—was another of the recusant Catholics who were forced to walk a very narrow line in the days of the English ping-pong that seemed to change the religious circumstances of the country at the drop of a hat. But Byrd, unlike some others (including his mentor Tallis) was much bolder in his proclamations of faith, readily associating with people who were considered critics of the crown, and even those who had been disciplined as such for their refusal to cooperate religiously. Byrd consistently got away with his Catholic convictions when others could not. There have been many theories about this, but none seem to hold up under close scrutiny. The most probable, when all is said and done, is that even though he was censured for his faith and activities (but never seriously punished) he was also considered to be a rather famous English musical asset who was able to publish almost at will abroad and at home, and wrote a remarkable variety of music that the authorities simply did not feel threatened by. His excellence as a composer did seem to grant him a degree of immunity.

The 1591 collection Cantiones Sacrae was written for and dedicated to some of the recusant activists in Byrd’s circle. It is a wonderful portfolio of psalm and liturgical settings that usually involve only a partial setting of a particular psalm, as in ‘Quis est homo’, which uses only five lines from Psalm 33. We get six of the 21 pieces in this collection on this disc. The remainder is dedicated to the 1605 Gradualia, a collection of mass propers, psalms, and liturgical prayers from different offices, again dedicated to some questionable personages as far as the crown was concerned. There is great variety in these works, and interest never wanes when listening to such a program.

The Cardinall’s Musick made quite a fuss during their years with Sanctuary Classics (Gaudeamus), winning all sort of awards for records of music by Ludford, Cornysh, and Fayrfax. This is their second recording for Hyperion, who seem to be taking up the Byrd cause by calling this “Volume 10”—the first nine residing on Sanctuary. It is nice to have the series continue in these days of big starts and sudden stops as far as complete editions go. (Remember the failed Hogwood-Haydn symphony series on Oiseau-Lyre?) I wish that companies would not even start series that they have not committed to finishing, and it is good of Hyperion to keep the ball rolling here. Those of you who have been following this excellent group will know what to expect here—very full-throttle singing, a little more emotive than most British groups of similar stripe, and not as rounded around the edges as someone like the Tallis Scholars. But this last is not a criticism, just a comment on the performance style, always perfectly suited to the composer at hand, and always entirely convincing. Texts, translations, excellent notes, and great sound.

— Steven Ritter   

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