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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



William Byrd (c.1535/40-1623)
O Sacrum Convivium
Propers for Ascension

1. Introit: Viri Galilaei [4:13]
2. Alleluia: Ascendit Deus  [1:13]
3. Alleluia: Dominus in Sina 1:10]
4. Offertory: Ascendit Deus [1:07]
5. Communion: Psallite Domino [1:02]
6. Hymn: Jesu nostra redemptio [4:53]
7. Magnificat: Antiphon O rex gloriae [2:08]
Propers for Pentecost
8. Magnificat: Antiphon Non vos relinquam [1:35]
9. Introit: Spiritus Domini [4:28]
10. Alleluia: Emitte spiritum tuum [1:37]
11. Alleluia: Veni Sancte Spiritus [1:09]
12. Sequence: Veni Sancte Spiritus [4:53]
13. Offertory: Confirma hoc Deus [1:39]
14. Communion: Factus est repente [1:52]
Propers for Corpus Christi
15. Magnificat: Antiphon O quam suavis est [3:47]
16. Benedictus: Antiphon Ego sum panis vivus [1:46]
17. Introit: Cibavit eos  [3:51]
18. Gradual & Alleluia: Oculi omnium [3.51]
19. Offertory: Sacerdotes Domini [1:13]
20. Communion: Quotiescunque manducabitis [2:26]
21. Magnificat Antiphon: O sacrum convivium [2:38]
Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament
22. O salutaris hostia [2:18]
23. Ab ortu solis [4:18]
24. Alleluia: Cognoverunt discipuli [3:18]
25. Ave verum corpus [3:42]
26. Pange lingua gloriosi [7:01]
The Cardinalls Musick/Andrew Carwood
Recorded: 8th -9th September 2002 at the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle and 20th February 2004 at St. Michaels Church, Highgate London.
SANCTUARY CLASSICS – GAUDEAMUS GAU 332 [74:27]




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I have a problem with this CD. Now let me say at once that it is a fine production from Gaudeamus. The ‘realisations’ by David Skinner are beautifully conceived and the singing by The Cardinalls Musick is timeless. The presentation of this CD is enhanced by a contemporary (of Byrd’s) painting of the Last Supper by Juan de Juanes. The sound quality is ideal: it is not hard to imagine being in a cathedral or monastery instead of the fireside, whilst listening to this CD on a good quality sound system. Furthermore this present disc is Volume 9 from an ongoing review of William Byrd’s music. I do not like to use the phrase ‘greatest composer’ of anyone from any era, but there is no doubt that Byrd, along with Thomas Tallis are two of the brightest stars in the history of British music. And the perfection of the music on this CD highlights this brilliance and genius.

Now to the big problem! How do you actually listen to this CD? Do we need to define some strategy for approaching the 26 tracks on this disc? Let us state the obvious: it is not the sort of music that can be listened to at a dinner party or a quiet tête-a-tête with the beloved. This is not background muzak that can be chatted over with a glass of wine in one hand and a Hamlet in the other. A further problem exists with the context of the music. This is not a Mass setting or a song-cycle or a set of dances for entertainment; this is the ‘Proper’ of the Mass.

Let me explain. In the days before ‘wiser’ heads destroyed much that was good in Roman Catholic Church liturgy and replaced a fine and venerable Latin rite with a somewhat pedestrian English one, there were many opportunities for ‘poetic’ texts of the day. It is important to recall that the Mass or Vespers can be separated into two key elements – the Ordinary and the Propers. The Ordinary, as its name implies are those texts which typically do not vary from day to day, week to week or season to season. These include such well known settings as the Agnus Dei, the Credo, the Magnificat (Vespers) and the Gloria. The Propers on the other hand relate to the season or to the Saint’s Day or Sunday. They change from Mass to Mass and are found in the Missal or Breviary. These include antiphons (a short text sung before and after a psalm or canticle) for the Magnificat and psalms, music sung at the offertory and communion and perhaps an Office hymn. The perusal of these Propers contributes much to our appreciation of the swing of the church’s year.

Now back to the problem. The ‘Propers’ are all good and well; they are beautiful artistic creations that lift our minds to God (if we believe in him) and help us understand in a practical and mystical way the timeless elements of the Christian faith.  Great! But in this CD, by definition, they are divorced from the rest of the Mass or Vespers. They are sung one after the other without the intervening texts, readings and liturgy. Packed onto this CD we have the ‘Propers’ for the Feasts of the Ascension, Pentecost and Corpus Christi - three of the greatest celebrations in the church’s calendar. But there is no breathing space. They would never have been listened to in this close connection; there would have been Gospel readings, Mass settings, censings and processions not to mention the homily and perhaps organ or instrumental voluntaries.

So what is our strategy for listening to this CD?

One suggestion only. First of all take a Feast at a time. Do not through play this CD. It will just wash over you. Secondly, find a setting of the Mass (how about Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices?) or a Magnificat that you particularly enjoy and have the CD close at hand. If you have a missal or a bible, look up the relevant passages. Open the CD booklet to the texts and translations page. Be prepared to swap CDs around in the machine. Put on a recording an organ voluntary, grab the remote control and get ready to realise your own Mass. There is a batting order and I add this below. I have indicated the relevant tracks on the CD.

Feast of Ascension

Feast of Pentecost

Feast of Corpus Christi

Introit [1]

Introit [9]

Introit [17]

Kyrie

Kyrie

Kyrie

Gloria

Gloria

Gloria

Epistle

Epistle

Epistle

Alleluia [2] [3]

Alleluia [10] [11]

Alleluia [18]

Gospel

Sequence [12]

Gospel

Creed

Gospel

Creed

Offertory [4]

Creed

Offertory [19]

Agnus Dei

Offertory [13]

Agnus Dei

Communion [5]

Agnus Dei

Communion [20]

Hymn [6]

Communion [14]

 

I know that this table accounts only for the Propers of the Mass. Included on this recording are a few Antiphons for the Magnificat and the Benedictus. Traditionally the Magnificat was sung at Vespers and the Benedictus was sung at Lauds (the second of the seven traditional daily offices of the church). But for our purposes there would be not problem in hearing them after the end of the ‘Mass.’ Or perhaps to listen to the Magnificat by Tallis with the antiphons provided on this disc?

I believe that the five settings from the Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament can be listened to in order as long as they are followed in the text provided with the CD and a realisation that this is one of the most moving, if somewhat extravagant, rituals in the Catholic tradition.

This is a great CD and is part of a fine series. It is essential listening for all interested in liturgical music and the works of one of the ‘greatest’ British composers.

Another volume in a fine series exploring the works of one of Britain’s greatest composers. These liturgical works are superbly realised and beautifully sung by The Cardinalls Musick.

John France

 



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