RECORDING OF THE MONTH
William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Infelix ego: The Byrd Edition - Volume 13
Venite, exsultemus Domino [3:07]
Domine, non sum dignus CS 15 [3:06]
Visita quaesumus, Domine [3:34]
Domine, salva nos CS 20 [3:15]
Haec dies CS 21 [2:21]
Cunctis diebus CS 19 [5:35]
Propers for The Feast of All Saints
Gaudeamus omnes … Sanctorum omnium [4:56]
Timete Dominum – Venite ad me [4:33]
Iustorum animae [2:39]
Beati mundo corde [3:04]
Deo gratias [0:45]
Afflicti pro peccatis nostris CS 17 [4:58]
Cantate Domino CS 18 [2:09]
Infelix ego CS 16 [12:53]
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
rec. Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, 27-29 April 2009. DDD.
Booklet includes sung texts with English translations.
HYPERION CDA67779 [61:17]
The invitation to Matins, Venite, exsultemus Domino (tr. 1) is brightly assertive from its opening leap and madrigalian in manner throughout. Enjoy the gleeful imitation of ‘jubilemus Deo’, ‘let us rejoice in God’ (0:22) as the six voices somersault over each other. There’s a more sober central section before ‘jubilemus’ returns, the rhythm gradually quickened to add to the excitement. This acceleration trick occurs in even quicker transformation in the closing Alleluias before a noble peroration.
Domine, non sum dignus (tr. 2) is the first of seven motets from Byrd’s 1591 Cantiones sacrae that form the core of this CD, identified as CS in the heading, followed by their numbering in the original and modern editions. This one is a fluent, personal, emotive appeal to the Lord, the use of all male voices here giving an ascetic feel with contrite descents for ‘non sum dignus’ (0:26), ‘I am not worthy’ and the faster rhythms at ‘sed tantum dic verbum’ (1:39). ‘But only say the word’ offers a release, the hope of which is revealed in the beaming ‘et sanabitur puer meus’ (2:01), ‘and my son shall be healed’.
For Byrd Visita quaesumus, Domine (tr. 3) is an unusually radiant piece because scored only for high voices and of straightforward structure. Homophonic passages alternate with imitative polyphony whose most notable feature is the pearly descant echoing of the two soprano parts in the luminous Amen. Carwood’s revised recording (see my earlier review) is kept flowing, direct and fresh.
Domine, salva nos (tr. 4) is an assertive appeal. Its descents by the parts in turn are reserved for ‘perimus’ (1:03), ‘for we perish’, the savouring of which seems rather masochistic. This is dispelled by a great gathering of the parts declaiming ‘impera’ (1:40), ‘command’, after which the descents are all about ‘tranquilitatem’ (2:01), ‘peace’. Carwood show us this is dramatic, not just intricate, counterpoint.
Haec dies (tr. 5) joyously greets the Lord’s day with a rising figure on ‘dies’ enjoyed in turn by all six parts. Carwood presents it lightly sprung but firmly articulated, a winning combination. Its second section, ‘exultemus’ (0:38), the call to rejoice, is fittingly more swinging with ebullient quickening of rhythm, ending in a rush of florid counterpoint. In the closing Alleluia section (1:03) a sense of contemplation is achieved as well as serenity through a bright, beaming tone in a grateful acoustic.
Cunctis diebus (tr. 6) starts dolefully with three parts only, slowly yet relentlessly progressing and spotlighting ‘immutatio mea’ (0:40), ‘my change’. The entry of all six parts is more formal, the texture gradually becoming fuller and the emphasis beaconing at ‘dolorem’ (1:28), ‘sorrow’. The prospective journey ‘ad terram miseriae’ (2:50), ‘to a land of misery’ is displayed as an ascent and descent, like a trial of strength as well as voice. However, the concluding melismata on ‘inhabitat’ (3:59), depicting a dwelling place of everlasting horror, is an expanse of nothingness.
The Propers for All Saints’ Day begin with the introit Gaudeamus omnes (tr. 7) and a soaring peal in the voices in turn before the excitement of the quicker rhythms of ‘diem festum celebrantes’, ‘celebrating a festival day’ (0:22) then broadening out for the creaminess of ‘sub honore Sanctorum omnium’, ‘in honour of all the Saints’ (0:31). Carwood achieves a vivid combination of intimacy and fervour. The angels rejoice, ‘gaudent Angeli’ (1:00), a merry bunch of rapid entries in turn. A resplendently affirmative Gloria completes the picture, but not quite: the opening is repeated to remind you what the affirmation is all about. I compared the 1988 recording by The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Virgin Veritas 5620132). Using more than one voice to a part, Christophers is more sonorous, less intimate, lively but more smoothly fashioned, less spontaneous than the lighter, brighter Carwood who reveals Byrd’s rhythmic dexterity and the wealth of imitation between parts more clearly.
The gradual and alleluia, Timete Dominum (tr. 8) also features an opening peal in the voices in turn, this one slower and more searching. This time, moreover, a quiet but notable intensity is achieved when the statements of ‘quoniam nihil deest’, ‘for nothing is lacking’ go higher in the soprano parts (from 0:43). A verse for the lower three parts spotlights those pearly upper two again at ‘Venite ad me’, ‘Come to me’ (2:21) while the relief of ‘et ego reficiam vos’, ‘and I will refresh you’ (3:27) is palpable in its rapid rhythms suddenly scattered across the parts and texture. Christophers’ performance here is smoother, more reflective, but less immediate and personal than Carwood’s which shows the witness of the text actively progressing and a closing relief which is more joyous.
The offertory Iustorum animae (tr. 9) is presented with simple yet telling conviction by Carwood, again actively progressing, the seamless co-ordination of first and second sopranos creating one long, glowing line. The clear descents of ‘insipientium’, ‘of the unwise’ (from 1:09) and ‘in pace’, ‘at peace’ (from 1:56) casts all care aside. Christophers’ beautiful performance, sung a tone lower than Carwood’s, is a more grief-stricken memorial than Carwood’s more affirmative presentation.
The communion, Beati mundo corde (tr. 10) is another serene, yet from Carwood also purposeful, progression. It sets three of the beatitudes, the first for three voices, the second (0:39) for four, the third (1:29) for five. Thus the blessing grows in radiance and the final descent, ‘est regnum caelorum’ burnished across all five parts from 2:25, promises ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Here Christophers is notably slower (3:33 against Carwood’s 3:04) and combined with his greater body of voices is at first more mystical and finally more powerful. But Carwood conveys more sense of individual identification with the text, especially in the third beatitude concerning persecution.
Deo gratias (tr. 11), whose title is also its full text, is a lovely, terse but warm setting, with buoyant five-note rising motif on ‘Deo’ gently impelled by the four parts in turn. Afflicti pro peccatis nostris (tr. 12) is a highly charged piece for Lent in which five parts elaborately and imploringly weave a penitential witness around a plainsong cantus firmus. Notable is the plangent starkness of the sudden homophony at ‘Dolor cordis nostris’ (2:13), ‘the sorrow of our heart’ and then the pained but adoring melisma on ‘Domine’ (2:53) as the first part ends with the rising motif ‘ascendat ad te, Domine’, ‘rises to you, Lord’. The second part similarly works towards the climactic statement ‘quae innovantur in nobis’ with the melodic line opening out to descant on ‘nobis’ (from 4:39). This emphasises the personal witness to the evils ‘which are renewed in us’.
With an enthusiastic build up of the six parts in turn from a single voice, Cantate Domino (tr. 13) flowers forth at ‘laus ejus’ (0:31). It proves magnificently assertive with its minefield of cross-rhythms. The central section, ‘Laetentur Israel’ (0:56) is in a more lilting triple metre before the purposeful thrust and battling imitative counterpoint of the close. This is breathtakingly displayed by The Cardinall’s Musick. Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes (tr. 14) who impress through the great arching melismata on ‘populi’, emphasising the extent of worship required. The central section (0:51) is at first a little quieter, acknowledging the Lord’s mercy, but finally beams forth (1:17) in the top two parts: the realization of being chosen to receive mercy. The closing section combines the energy of the affirmation of the rising figure of ‘et veritas Domini’ (1:47), ‘and the truth of the Lord’, with the glowing security of the falling figure, ‘manet in aeternum’ (1:58), ‘remains for ever’. The latter becomes dominant with its own elaborate flourish.
What Carwood’s performance of Infelix ego (tr. 15) made me appreciate is the skilfulness of Byrd’s contrasts of scoring. This serves to clarify the journey from despair to hope of redemption with a mix of both along the way. The full six parts don’t enter till ‘ad quem fugiam?’ (1:12), bringing a sense of desperation in the question ‘to whom shall I flee?’ The hope of the rising motif ‘ad coelum levare oculae’ (1:37), ‘lift my eyes to heaven’, the natural order of things, is emphatically rejected by the spattering repetitions of ‘non audeo’ (2:09), ‘I dare not’. Yet in the second section the altos’ agony at ‘Desperabo?’ (4:45), ‘Shall I despair?’ is outflanked by the sudden illumination of the sopranos’ rising five notes to acknowledge God, ‘Deus’ (5:21). This is confirmed by the calm descents of all parts in imitation at ‘refugiam meum’ (5:47), ‘my refuge’. Those same words are, however, given more expansive and questioning treatment by the sopranos in the third section (8:25) before the affirmative plea for mercy, ‘Miserere mei’ in all parts (10:49) and the strength of the coda’s belief in it, ‘misericordium tuam’ (12:06). Like all this CD’s performances, this one is of palpable commitment and exceptional quality, clarifying Byrd’s emotional range and power.
Performances of palpable commitment and exceptional quality.