I think this is an excellent double CD. Tallis and Byrd have been extensively recorded by some truly brilliant ensembles, but this is a very welcome and significant addition to the catalogue. David Skinner has studied and lived with the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae for many years, not least in the recordings he prepared and produced for The Cardinall's Musick's superb Byrd series. This is the first time that the whole of the Cationes Sacrae has been recorded together in the order in which Byrd and Tallis placed them in the manuscript, and it is Skinner's personal, deeply researched and deeply felt take on a sublime collection of music. The result is fabulous, and it has been in my CD player almost constantly since it arrived a few days ago.
Alamire are a group of very fine singers and their performance is excellent - technically flawless and with a lovely balance and blend. Skinner's choices of pitch (which he explains in the fascinating notes) are generally fairly low, giving a very rich sound with a thrillingly full lower register. The acoustic in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle is simply perfect for this, with a lovely resonance which never obscures or blurs the parts. Skinner maintained in a recent interview on Radio 3 that this music is not aetherial and other-worldly and this is reflected in the performance which is a little more robust than, say, The Tallis Scholars or Stile Antico. This brings out many of the music's wonderful qualities, such as Byrd's inventive harmonies, but there is still plenty of sheer beauty here. For example, the collection closes with possibly the best performance I have heard ofTallis's indescribably lovely Miserere nostri Domini. Considering the competition, this is very high praise indeed and not given lightly.
In short, this is a terrific set of wonderful music, superbly sung. Very warmly recommended indeed.