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William Byrd: Laudibus in sanctis
30 Mar 2008

William Byrd. Laudibus in sanctis.

William Byrd’s affinity for the Latin motet found various outlets.

William Byrd: Laudibus in sanctis

The Cardinall’s Musick; Andrew Carwood, Director.

Hyperion CDA6758 [CD]

$21.99  Click to buy

The three volumes of Cantiones Sacrae (1575, with Thomas Tallis, 1589, and 1591) and two volumes of Gradualia (1605 and 1607), polyphonic settings of the Mass Propers of the Roman Rite, are an abundant trove and document both the Latin motet’s persistence in Anglican contexts as well as Byrd’s own persistence in musical Romanism. This present recording, the tenth in a series of Byrd’s works by Andrew Carwood and The Cardinall’s Musick, presents the polyphonic Propers for Lady Mass in Eastertide from the 1605 Gradualia and diverse motets from the 1591 Cantiones Sacrae. Certain of the texts seem particularly resonant with the plight of Roman Catholics in Elizabethan England. For example, the motet, “Tribulatio proxima est,” with its references to tribulation, insults, and terrors and a final plea that the Lord as deliverer will not delay, seems autobiographically poignant for Byrd who, close to the time of its publication, relocated away from London to become part of a recusant community in Essex. Similarly, the “Salve Regina,” both in its Marian identity and its lamentative reference to “this vale of tears,” also strikes a distinctively Roman chord. The religious history of late sixteenth-century England is one of many layers, and these Latin works, penned by a member of Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal, are enduring reminders of the era’s religious complexity.

The Cardinall’s Musick brings a compelling fluency to their performances of Byrd, born of their long-standing commitment to his music. Their sound is both exquisitely clear and vibrantly alive, fluid in its motion and satisfyingly well-controlled. (Such beautiful final chords!) That said—and enthusiastically so—much of the music is also sung with notable fullness of sound. There are, indeed, welcome lulls, such as the “pacem Deus” of “Alleluia. Ave Maria,” or the “genuisti” of “Beata es, virgo,” but in the main there is a full richness in the sound that may lose some of its expressive power when maintained at great length. And given the busyness of much of the counterpoint, a more dynamically varied approach would serve well.

One of the most memorable renditions on the recording is the Compline prayer, “Visita quaesumus, Domine,” memorable especially for the ensemble’s lighter and more contoured approach, elicited by the nocturnal context of its words and Byrd’s scoring without a low bass voice. The “Regina caeli” is also memorable both for its three-voice texture—a change of pace from the richness of its surrounding works—and also for the ensemble’s engagingly buoyant singing of the “resurrexit” figures.

Steven Plank

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