The irresistible sound of Byrd

The Cardinall’s Musick offer a joyous alternative take on Byrd's finest work.

Composer: Byrd
Repertoire: O sacrum convivium
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Choral
Label: ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 332

Byrd was in his sixties when he composed most of the motets heard on this disc, works published for the outlawed Catholic liturgy in 1605, the year of gunpowder, treason and popish plot. It would be easy to downplay the composer’s vigour and sheer inventive confidence in favour of a subdued performance style, one intended to suggest the world-weariness of an unreconstructed follower of the Roman faith in Protestant England.

Such an approach suits our view of how an artist should respond to oppression or alienation. The men of The Cardinall’s Musick offer an alternative take on Byrd’s religious non-conformity, opening ears to his defiant recognition of counter-reformation thinking. They capture the ageing composer’s blend of youthful swagger and mature musical mastery in full-throated pomp, inspired by Andrew Carwood’s direction. Factus est repente, a communion motet for Pentecost, here conjures up the sound of the ‘mighty wind’ of the Holy Spirit descending: pretty singing and the modern obsession with blend are blown away by this choral whirlwind. The sublime Ave verum corpus registers with the conviction of a devout private prayer, stripped of romantic musical gestures. An irresistible album to crown ASV’s matchless  Byrd Edition.