The Word Unspoken

William BYRD (1539/40 - 1623)
Tristitia et anxietas [9:17]
Vigilate [4:38]
Tribulationes civitatum [9:24]
Vide, Domine, afflictionem [7:57]
Ne irascaris [8:46]
Philippe de MONTE (1521 - 1603)
Domine, quid multiplicati sunt [5:47]
Miserere mei, Deus [3:33]
O suavitas et dulcedo [5:04]
Super flumina Babylonis [5:19]
William BYRD
Quomodo cantabimus [6:28]
Gallicantus/Gabriel Crouch (baritone)
rec. St Michael’s Church Summertown Oxford, July 2008, January 2011. DDD.
Booklet includes sung texts with English translations.

For Byrd mulling over the sacred texts was how the notes suggested themselves to him. You can experience this on this CD owing to the clarity and effectiveness with which the texts are revealed through the sheer beauty of Gallicantus’s singing which is totally captivating. And that beauty is a paradox for here are some of the most desolate texts. Yet setting them with some beauty is itself a form of catharsis. So take track 1, Tristitia et anxietas, where there's much, languishing focus on 'in dolore' from 2:22, an experience of mourning you could class as indulgent except that it's so deeply felt. Then there's the personal nature of the witness, the recognition of guilt at ‘quia peccavi’ from 4:19 working to a climax, the plea for comfort, 'consolare' (6:53) and growingly affirmative closing prayer 'et miserere mei’ (8:04). After this the more madrigalian motet Vigilate (tr. 2) with the springing force of its imitation of cock crow at ‘an gallicantu’, notably in the top line at 1:42, receives a relatively serene, contemplative treatment yet one which clarifies the text is a homily.
Tribulationes civitatum (tr. 3) is striking for its imploring trust, ‘Domine, ad te sunt oculi nostri’, ‘Lord, our eyes are fixed on thee’ (1:21) combined with fear, ‘ne pereamus’, ‘don’t let us perish’ (1:35). And there’s variety of style from a madrigalian picture of flight to the simple plea, ‘Domine, miserere’, ‘Lord, have mercy’ (5:49). The piece closes with an appeal for pity which grows more urgent, climaxing in the top line’s almost brutal statement of affliction (8:59). This close has the same text as the next motet, Vide, Domine, afflictionem nostrum (tr. 4), now cast in a more contemplative and bleak mould. The pain now is in the harmonies, especially the colouring of ‘desolata’ (1:41), desolate Jerusalem. Its sustained sorrow dwells on bitterness, change of circumstances and pleading for restoration with touching intimacy, ‘da nobis, Domine’ (4:39), and a quiet and humble ‘et miserere’ (5:33).
Ne irascaris (tr. 5), the best known piece on this CD, here has a warmth of fervent witness, heartfelt confession yet also the beaming appeal of ‘Ecce’, ‘Behold’ (1:41) and humility of reminder, ‘populus tuus’, ‘your people’ (from 2:35). At 5:13 on ‘deserta’ Gallicantus sing the fruity chord as originally printed, which I like, though it’s out of favour with scholars nowadays. Unforgettable is the poise Gallicantus give ‘Sion deserta’, ‘Zion the wilderness’ (5:49) whose rare absence of counterpoint brings a sense of vast space. I compared the 2001 recording by The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 309). Carwood’s greater rhythmic emphasis creates a more protesting, dramatic account, with ‘populus tuus’ more urgent yet ‘Sion deserta’ no more than a stark statement. This CD now changes composer and de Monte is different. The text of Domine, quid multiplicati sunt (tr. 6), a protest against persecution, is uncompromising yet the music is quite luminous in Gallicantus’s performance, serenely distilled smoothly flowing descents even when friends are ‘de longe’, standing far away (4:43). There’s moving sadness, however, at the recollection of those friends, ‘Amici mei’ (2:52) and force to the activity, ‘quaerebant’, of enemies (5:23). De Monte’s Miserere mei setting (tr. 7) is closer to Byrd, in more wan colours and more plaintive but the fundamental melodic line remains smooth and pure, clarifying the text and there’s a telling sense of gratitude at ‘qui benefecit mihi’, the recognition of having been blessed (from 2:32). Voce mea (tr. 8) has more active melismata on ‘clamavi’, ‘I cried’ (from 0:11) and a sustained pointing across the parts identifying tribulation (from 1:37). But there’s something abstract about this: there isn’t the immediacy of suffering of the Byrd settings. O suavitas et dulcedo (tr. 9) begins with de Monte’s preference for consonant adoration depicting Christ’s birth. Yet this piece in 8 vocal parts has more contrapuntal embellishment and involvement akin to that Byrd favoured. The texture is thinned for the personal recognition of ‘qui pro nostra’ (1:11), it was for us Christ was ‘in cruce extensus’, stretched out on the cross (1:45), then thickened for the earnest prayer ‘rogo te’, ‘I beg you’ (2:47).
In 1583 de Monte sent Byrd his motet for 8 voices, Super flumen Babylonis. You’ll notice in Gallicantus’s performance the early emphasis 'illic', ‘there’, emphasising the problem is one of place before the sudden, magical release of rising crotchets, a quicker rhythm, for 'cantionum' (2:20), the reference to song, what the composer really is about. And it’s the text ‘Quomodo cantabimus’, ‘How shall we sing?’ (2:35) which de Monte makes especially sad before the close from 3:56 is haunted by the slight fall of ‘suspendimus’, ‘we hung up’ and then cascading descent of ‘organa’, ‘instruments’. I compared the 1997 recording by The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 179). They sing the piece a third higher and use sopranos in the top lines to more piercing effect. Their interweaving of de Monte’s two 4-part choruses is more dramatic, the rhythms more urgent, so the piece becomes more painfully direct yet has less of Gallicantus’s quality of soulful lament.
This CD’s title, ‘The word unspoken’, if you like subtext posed by de Monte, is 'How can you be creative as a Roman Catholic in an alien and dangerous environment?', the advice given, 'Stop trying to compose there and emigrate'. Byrd replied in 1584 titling his piece with that phrase Quomodo cantabimus, but from a smoother base and using 8 vocal parts all the time so the emphasis, particularly in the Gallicantus account, is on flowing rhythm and activity. The contrast is startling, partly because of Byrd’s higher tessitura and Gallicantus’s addition for this piece alone on the CD of sopranos on the top line. Mainly because Byrd’s descents here are serene and the emphasis is on rising progressions so the effect is of ever moving towards heaven. Most memorable in the later part is the madrigalian lightness of ‘in principio laetitiae’, ‘at the beginning of my joy’ (tr. 11 3:48). The Cardinall’s Musick perform this piece a tone higher and in a much more measured fashion, timing 8:54 against Gallicantus 6:28. The effect is more ethereal and the parts’ frequent repetition of the text is etched more clearly but there’s not Gallicantus’s sense of spontaneity of grateful acceptance of heritage. Byrd says ‘I stay true to my faith and roots’.
Michael Greenhalgh
The sheer beauty of Gallicantus’s singing is totally captivating.