BYRD: 13 Motets from `Cantiones Sacrae' The Sarum Consort / Andrew Mackay
BYRD: 13 Motets from `Cantiones Sacrae'

The Sarum Consort /

Andrew Mackay

ASV CD QS 6211

Renaissance choral music no longer needs the hard sell. Palestrina, Victoria, Lassus, Cipriano de Rore - all have been been big retail successes. Whether that's for the quality of the musical thinking, or for a nostalgic evocation of a mythical Age of Faith, or just for the sheer beauty of the sound, isn't easy to say. But one of the striking things (for me) about William Byrd, the greatest church composer before Henry Purcell, is how directly his finest music speaks across the centuries. There's a unique balance between sublime architectural proportion, superb craft and intensity of feeling, whether in the aspiring lines and subtle shading of "Ne irascaris" ("Be not angry any more, O Lord"), or the gravity-defying exultation of "O lux beata trinitas" ("O light, O blessed Trinity").

If this is still unexplored territory for you, this disc is an excellent place to start. There are no scholarly innovations here, just secure, lively, imaginative and very expressive singing, sympathetically recorded.

The programme not only combines 13 of Byrd's finest short church pieces, it contrasts them beautifully, so that each motet seems to open a door on something new. The joyous, elegantly intricate "Haec dies" ("This is the day which the Lord hath made") is the perfect finale - the kind that makes you want to go back to the beginning and start all over again.