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William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Hodie Simon Petrus: The Byrd Edition Volume 11  
Descendit de caelis  CS 21-22 [5:33] 
Tu es pastor ovium  [2:03]
Miserere mei, Deus  CS 20 [3:04] 
Circumdederunt me CS 15 [4:50] 
Quodcumque ligaveris  [4:16] 
Recordare, Domine  CS 17-18 [6:04] 
Exsurge, quare obdormis, Domine? CS 19 [4:17] 
Lętania  [8:57] 
Nunc scio vere  [5:23] 
Constitues eos principes  [3:07] 
Tu es Petrus  [2:12] 
Levemus corda  CS 16 [4:45] 
Hodie Simon Petrus  [3:53] 
Solve, iubente Deo  [2:40] 
Haec dicit Dominus  CS 13-14 [6:43]
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
rec. Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, 12-14 November 2007. DDD.
Booklet includes sung texts with English translations.
HYPERION CDA67653 [67:54]


Experience Classicsonline

This CD contains motets 8 to 14 from Byrd’s Cantiones sacrae published in 1591. In the heading these are identified after the titles as CS followed by their numbering in the original and modern editions. The numbering incorporates the dividing of some motets into two sections.

The other items on this CD are from the Gradualia book 2 published in 1607 except for Lętania which comes from book 1 published in 1605. First I shall review the Cantiones sacrae in their 1591 order.

Haec dicit Dominus (tr. 15) is here in its original scoring for low voices (alto, two tenor and two bass parts) which brings more solemnity, dignity and sense of awe to the opening harmonies and layering of ‘lamentationes’ (tr. 15 0:52). This account has more urgency of articulation, fluency and drama than that by New College Oxford Choir/Edward Higginbottom (CRD 3439 published 1986) which is sung a third higher and delivered with more reflective sorrowing, timing at 7:32 against Carwood’s 6:43. The faster tempo better points the moment of transformation when the sudden warmth and expansion of the alto and second tenor lines signals hope, ‘et est spes’ (4:41). Circumdederunt me (tr. 4) is another transformation piece, moving from the opening melismata of binding, depicting the snares of death in tortuous counterpoint, to the closing ‘libera’ entries of the hoped for free flight of the soul, the key point in optimistic affirmation in Carwood’s performance being the intensity of the second plea ‘O Domine’ (3:48). Again employing low voices (ATT Baritone B) the delivery is more engagingly insistent, the phrase spans through the parts more readily appreciable than Higginbottom’s account sung a tone higher and with more emphasis on a top line of trebles, though their ‘O Domine’ has a memorably yearning ache.

Levemus corda (tr. 12) is notable at first for its celebratory rising line and use of upper voices (SAATB) as appropriate to ‘Let us lift our hearts’. This is its first recording and Carwood emphasises the positive movement in the melismata, first on ‘corda’, then on ‘caelos’, reaching to heaven and viewing it, as it were, from above. Then comes the recognition of misdeeds, a smooth yet searing descent of ‘provocavimus’ in the top line at 2:57 before the plea for mercy, ‘miserere nostri’ becomes the mantra, most strikingly and beautifully in the soaring top line arc at 4:10. What’s haunting about Recordare, Domine (tr. 6) is its stark picture from 2:05 of a potentially desolate earth, ‘ut non desoletur terra’. The chamber choir of The Sarum Consort/Andrew Mackay recorded in 1996 (ASV Quicksilva CDQS6211) with more density of tone and dramatic ambience than Carwood make this a moving, sad scene. But Carwood, performing a tone higher, with one voice per part and a faster pulse, timing 6:04 against Mackay’s 6:42, has greater clarity of line, counterpoint and personal identification in the delivery of the appeal. Carwood’s focus in the second part on the holy city, ‘et a civitate sancta tua’, especially from 4:12 is less emotive than Mackay’s but more idealized and beauteous, embodying more hope that it cannot be destroyed.

It’s abundantly clear from Carwood that Exsurge, quare obdormis, Domine? (tr. 7) is a motet of protest as befits this wake-up call to the Lord. His account is even more muscularly athletic than that also recorded in 2007 by Stile Antico (Harmonia Mundi HMU807463, see review), timing at 4:17 against Stile Antico’s 4:30 though Carwood’s six voices have less body than Stile Antico’s thirteen. Carwood to his credit achieves dynamism from purely contrapuntal and rhythmic interchange rather than Stile Antico’s weight but the latter provide more light and shade with more appreciably moulded, if less spontaneous, phrase spans as the imitative entries in turn at ‘et ne repellas me in finem’ and later ‘tribulationes nostrae’ begin quietly then gradually become more clamorous. Yet in the closing return to the combative cries of ‘Exsurge, Domine’ the fuller forces prove more thrilling. Miserere mei, Deus (tr. 3) is a striking plea for mercy, the more so at the disturbing insistency of pace Carwood brings to it. Trinity College Cambridge Choir/Richard Marlow, recorded in 2001 (Chandos CHAN0733, see review) are more measured and beautifully sculpted, timing at 3:44 in comparison with Carwood’s 3:04, but Marlow, sung a tone lower, gives us emotion recollected in tranquillity, contrition all that’s needed whereas Carwood’s is a present, living pained arc of effectively descant top line climaxes at ‘misericordiam tuam’ (0:59) and again at ‘dele iniquitatem meam’ (2:19), the outcome by no means assured.

Never recorded before, Descendit de coelis (tr. 1) opens with measured floating descents as from heaven and touches of descant line to give perspective counterbalanced by the rising imitation of ‘in regionem nostram’ from 1:47. The second part effects are more intense: gleaming descents  through golden gates (3:15) matched by rushing ascents of floods of light (3:49) before, like fan vaulting in sound, the closing celebratory arcs of ‘universae fabricae mundi’ from 4:16. Just stunning.

Lętania, the Litany (tr. 8), also recorded for the first time, is a series of petitions by a priest, or here baritone Robert Evans, and responses by the congregation, here The Cardinall’s Musick. This is straightforward 4 part homophony with minimal decoration, yet the effect in the context of this CD is of an uplifting purity and clarity, partly because of the sheer euphony when so well sung and balanced, partly because of its purposeful, quite pacy presentation which emphasises the harmony opening out. At various points petitions can be added according to the festival, as happens here to honour all the saints, from 2:30 to 2:49, 3:01 to 3:50, 4:35 to 4:47 and 4:58 to 5:45. There’s a surprise too: the Agnus Dei petitions begin calmly but the top line gradually rises and grows in intensity, so its third and final petition (7:18) is quite keening.

The other Gradualia items constitute the Propers for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The Introit Nunc scio vere (tr. 9) is from Carwood all exultation at deliverance. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Virgin 5620132 recorded 1989) perform the piece a third higher, using female voices on the two upper lines to creamier, more ethereal effect but rather dominating the balance. Carwood’s countertenors supply sheer force and rhythmic excitement, aided by his slightly faster tempo, timing at 5:23 against Christophers’ 5:46. Carwood’s use of one voice per part makes the articulation more personal, especially the skipping close of the central verse section, ‘et resurrectionem meam’ from 2:13. In the Gradual Constitues eos principes (tr. 10) through the clarity of the layering of the parts Carwood brings a sense of regal gathering and a feeling of opening out when shorter notes infuse the texture at ‘Domine’ from 0:53 and ‘generatione’ from 1:31. Its verse (1:46) is sinewy imitation in 3 parts followed by confident, robust Alleluias. In the Offertory Tu es Petrus (tr. 11) Carwood presents an galvanized picture of building the church through the rising imitative entries in short notes over the firm rock of sustained bass notes before resilient Alleluias. It’s a gain to have solo voices here. Christophers, performing a third higher, is bright and airy but doesn’t generate Carwood’s energy. Hodie Simon Petrus (tr. 13), the Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers, is similarly given a more intense account by Carwood, with more excitement at the madrigalian ‘gaudens’ (1:13) yet still a serene descent at ‘inclinato capite’ (2:09). In Tu es pastor ovium (tr. 2), the Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers, Carwood’s climax as the firm articulation of the motif ‘tibi traditae sunt’ (from 1:18) is offset by the skipping descents of ‘caelorum’ (from 1:38) emerges from a more natural rhythmic spontaneity than Christophers’ more moulded approach. Again with Carwood’s one voice per part there’s more clarity of entries and individuality of witness. Christophers prefers a more homogenized otherworldliness. In Carwood’s Quodcumque ligaveris (tr. 5), the Benedictus Antiphon at Lauds, you notice in particular the affirmative witness of the imitation between parts from 0:49 in the descents ‘et in caelis’ and then the firmer motif rising from 1:43 at ‘erit solutum’. When the final section, ‘dicit Dominus Simoni Petro’ (2:32) becomes a virtuosic flurry of rapid notes, Carwood by taking these more lightly in his stride brings a more natural, less drilled feel than Christophers to this rich unflowering.

Finally there’s Solve, iubente Deo (tr. 14), the Alleluia at the Feast of St Peter’s Chains. Carwood makes the opening command ‘Solve’ an arresting peal, brings a spiky edge from 0:51 to ‘catenas’, Peter’s chains, but then a more smiling and serene expansiveness from 1:22 for ‘caelestia regna beatis’ before sonorous Alleluias. The Cambridge Singers/John Rutter (Collegium CSCD507 published 1989), singing a tone higher, are eager and articulate in an attractive, light manner which makes the heavenly kingdoms an idyllic enough dream but the chains flimsier. They don’t have Carwood’s innate elemental toughness, rigour of articulation and sheer resonance, characteristics which pervade these fine performances born of the Cardinall’s Musick’s unmatched experience of and sympathy in singing Byrd.

Michael Greenhalgh

see also Review by Brian Wilson






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