William Byrd was a composer of grace and power. A staunch Catholic in an increasingly Protestant country, Byrd maintained his church loyalties at high cost. However, as a recognised genius at liturgical music, he had powerful admirers and friends, perhaps including Queen Elizabeth herself. Producing musical settings to Latin texts in a new-regime English-dominated church environment took courage. However, Byrd persevered all his life to produce music that remains timeless while being firmly rooted in its time.
--Ave Verum Corpus--
The Cambridge Singers named this collection after the 4-minute motet Ave Verum Corpus by Byrd. A motet is typically a choral composition sung at services other than masses (often at Vespers, although sometimes as anthem music). Byrd, together with Tallis (from whom this ensemble derives its name), was considered a master of the Flemish style of motet.
There are motets here for penitence and prayer, slow and somber sounding pieces. There are motets of praise and rejoicing, which have a very different energy and feel about them. Byrd did about 150 of these Latin settings, of which this collection contains 15. With regard to English Anthems, Byrd produced several dozen of these, and these were his best known works, the Latin-based pieces being overlooked in the new English, Protestant churches. Anthems were an English innovation to replace older, more Latin-Catholic elements in the services.
The notes include an introduction to the CD with a generous biography of Byrd, a listing of the tracks with lyrics together with a brief paragraph about the history of the piece. Where lyrics are in Latin, an English translation is provided. There is no description of the group, nor biographical information about John Rutter.
Rutter was born in London and educated at Clare College, Cambridge. This was where his career as a composer, arranger and conductor began. His early work was with groups at King's College Chapel at Cambridge as well as the Bath Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra. He has worked for the BBC providing music for educational series such as 'The Archaeology of the Bible Lands', until in 1979 he began forming the Cambridge Singers, and has continued a remarkable career of performance and recording as their director ever since.
--The Cambridge Singers--
The Cambridge Singers are a mixed choir of voices, many of whom were members of choir of Rutter's college, Clare College, Cambridge. While they specialise in English and Latin liturgical pieces, they have a wide range of recordings that span from modern compositions (including a remarkable requiem by Rutter) to English folk songs of the Middle Ages. Many are former members of the choir of Clare College and other Cambridge collegiate choirs (hence the name, Cambridge Singers). In the quarter-century since the founding, the Cambridge Singers have produced an impressive body of recordings.
This is a wonderful CD, recorded at one of the Cambridge Singers' traditional recording venues, the Great Hall of University College School, London.