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Cat. No. CHAN 0733 Price: £0 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 0733 - Byrd: Cantiones sacrae
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Available From: 01 April 2007
Byrd’s exquisite collections of Cantiones sacrae were like no other books produced in Elizabethan England. Composers in mainland Europe – Palestrina, for example, wrote a steady stream of Latin motets and had them published in mass-market editions but Byrd was the first English composer to do the same. After the Latin liturgy was abolished by mid-sixteenth-century reformers, there was an understandable lack of demand for Latin sacred music among professional singers in England, when the motet resurfaced there, it did so as high-class chamber music for discerning performers, not as practical church music: Byrd's motets were therefore serious in mood, though were intended as vocal chamber music for domestic performance.

In his motets Byrd showed himself the equal of his French and Italian contemporaries as a contrapuntist. He was an innovator in form and technique in his liturgical work. H.K. Andrews described them as 'musically one of the great achievements of the century' Both volumes of Cantiones sacrae, Book I (29 motets) written in 1589, Book II (32 motets) in 1591are a testament to Byrd’s artistic talent. It would be difficult to find another Renaissance composer who managed to unite such a high level of technical skill with such deep insight into the varieties of human emotion, and the pieces on this CD offer a sampling of his art. Haec dies is a joyful Easter text sung just before the gospel of the Resurrection is proclaimed on Easter Sunday morning. Byrd’s use of lively triple rhythms and bright scoring (in six parts, with an extra tenor and soprano) adds to its brilliant effect. In resurrectione tua, another Easter motet, sparkles with a flourish of ornamentation in all voices. The crisp, intertwining melodies are very accessible. Laudibus in sanctis is unique among Byrd’s Latin motets. Its unusual words and its extrovert flair – reminiscent of an English madrigal – have combined to make it one of the most admired of his Cantiones. Byrd handles the endless parade of illustrations – trumpets, drums, organ music, dancing – with unfailing wit and technical facility.

Both books of Cantiones sacrae 1589 and 1591 are rarely available together which makes this collection all the more important.

There is no one like Richard Marlow and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge to revive a repertoire that is still reserved for a minority audience, able to enjoy the intricate patterns of the imitative counterpoint, the musical language of the most important monuments of Renaissance sacred music.

After a brightly festive account of the celebratory ‘Haec dies’, the Trinity College singers seem to settle down into a deeply pensive mood, exuding calm and tranquillity, peace and goodwill and a certain comfortable softness which tends to waft around the room life incense burning in some dark chapel…. This is a lovely sounding disc and it is matched by a typically generous and sturdy booklet, with clear and nicely readable notes from Kerry McCarthy… quite magical
International Record Review

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge is adept at capturing the differing moods of the pieces.

The vocalist’s ensemble and breath control permits not only the broadest of dynamic ranges, but also the quickest of contrasts and the lengthiest of crescendos. Marlow exploits this, shaping lines around Byrd’s superb word-settings, and the choir’s clarity of diction enhances the impact of Marlow’s phrasing…. The sound engineering matches that of the performance; single lines are as clearly audible as the choir’s hallmark blend.
BBC Music Magazine

The performances are robust yet sensitive… and the recorded sound is sumptuous. This is a triumph for Marlow and his Trinity College Choir…
International Record Review on Mendelssohn Sacred Choral Works


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