William Byrd together with Thomas Tallis is regarded as the finest composer to come out of England during the Reformation but what is so fascinating about him is that although being of Catholic stock, he served the Protestant monarchy with fidelity and devotion, and at the time of his death in 1623 at the age of around 83, he was considered beyond reproach.
The listener is immediately attracted to Byrd's subtle mastery of dramatic flow and invention, his finely wrought melodies and harmonic twists intertwined with a profound understanding of the texts he chose to set. This disc includes excerpts from two masterly collections, the 'Cantiones Sacrae' of 1591 and the 'Gradualia' of 1605 in which Byrd provides a wealth of musical material that is not only a testimony to his deep faith but also to his consummate artistry.
The 'Gradualia' in particular reveals the composer's love for the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God. At present, Hyperion's catalogue lists 6 compilations of Byrd's output, so he is well served by this label's advocacy. Of course the pick of these will always remain the 7 disc set of his complete keyboard music (CDA66551/7), winner of several awards and a real blockbuster of a project. But this latest release is most welcome if only for the fact that it enhances our knowledge and appreciation of a towering 16th Century English genius.
Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's Musick are distinguished exponents of this repertoire and their singing is uniformly superb and vigorously uplifting. Annotations and sound are beyond blemish in what is an issue of five-star quality.
Copyright © 2007, Gerald Fenech