Classical CD Reviews

BYRD: The Great Service; Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles; Unto the hills mine eyes I lift; Make ye joy to God all the earth; Turn our captivity, O Lord; This day Christ was born – The Cardinall’s Musick/ Andrew Carwood – Hyperion

The Cardinall’s Musik returns with another superb Byrd album.

Published on May 28, 2013

BYRD: The Great Service; Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles; Unto the hills mine eyes I lift; Make ye joy to God all the earth; Turn our captivity, O Lord; This day Christ was born – The Cardinall’s Musick/ Andrew Carwood – Hyperion CDA67937, 59:15 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

William Byrd had it really, really tough. A strict—and pious—Roman Catholic in the reign of Elizabeth I, he fought his whole life trying to publish music for the church, was imprisoned once, paid innumerable fines for “absenting himself from (Anglican) church services”, and struggled to maintain himself in the good graces of the Queen, which he did manage to do for the most part. A lesser composer would probably not have made it. Most of his published music for the Anglican community was in the form of anthems and part songs to be sung in the home, and his published sacred liturgical music was for the Catholic Church. It is amazing he managed even that. But he did compose some music for the English Church though he did not publish it. And it is only since the discovery of the Great Service in 1922 that we had any idea that he wrote such a major work for Anglicanism.

This piece covers three major sections of matins: two of liturgy, and two of vespers, making it the most comprehensive setting Byrd ever attempted. We don’t really know why; some have speculated that it was because of his connection to one of two assassination plots against the Queen—indirectly—that led him to write this as a sort of “apology” piece to her. Whatever the reason, he poured his heart out in it with extraordinary ten-voice writing and a dedication to the text unknown in his other pieces. The music is complex and forceful, making it one of the bedrocks of the Anglican repertory.

Also included here are a number of tuneful and character-laden anthems that Byrd also wrote for the English church. There is not a lot, so we must be grateful for any recording that come our way in this music. The Cardinall’s Musik is well-known by now, with a reputation that goes well before it. To say that these performances are any different in quality from those award winners they have produced the last 20 years would be disingenuous. Hyperion has captured them with brilliance and a softness of sound that supports these singers with élan.

—Steven Ritter




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