If there is any fault with this disc I can't find it. I have owned it for years now and I still play it regularly and with immense pleasure. It is the fifth volume of The Cardinall's Musick's Byrd Edition (currently up to Volume 12 at the time of writing this). Every disc in the series is a gem and this one is one of the very best.
Byrd's three Mass settings are a wonderfully beautiful statement of faith by one of England's truly great composers - a Catholic in Elizabeth's militantly Protestant England. They were written to be sung in secret in private houses and the Three- and Four-Voice Masses in particular have a very personal, intimate feel. The overall effect is simply lovely, particularly in these performances.
The Cardinall's Musick are now well established as one of the world's finest Renaissance vocal ensembles, and this disc shows why. They have a beautiful, resonant sound, flawless intonation and a wonderful empathy with the music, bringing out both its sheer loveliness and its relationship to the text with a consummate skill of which the listener is never consciously aware, and leaving us with the feeling of a truly beautiful, profound musical experience.
This disc comes with extremely interesting and scholarly notes and at a very reasonable price. If you're looking for somewhere to start with William Byrd you couldn't do better than this disc in my view, and even if you already have recordings of these masses (as I did when I bought it) I'd recommend it very warmly. It is simply sublime.
Update: June 2013
This wonderful disc has been chosen as the best performance available of Byrd's Mass for Four Voices CD Review's Building A Library on Radio 3 in the face of phenomenal competition. Quite right, too, in my view - it's stunning.
on 10 May 2010
The choral music of Tudor England includes some absolute gems. William Byrd's Masses are among them. Perhaps not everyone's cup of tea as there is a lack of drama, something that had not transferred itself from secular music to sacred. To me, they seem to represent a half-way house between Gregorian chant and the Baroque composers. Having said that, they have an ethereal, placid beauty, which is awesome to listen to. Dim the lights, sit in your listening chair and put this on - and you will be transported back to another place and time. The quality of the recording is excellent.
I have had the Tallis Scholars' version for some time. I always thought the Tallis Scholars hard to beat. Which is better? They are both wonderful! It is an insult to music-making of this quality to try to categorise it as "good" and "less good". I have to have them both.
on 25 August 2013
Radio 3's CD Review on Saturday morning is worth keeping an eye on for new classical CDs and for help in choosing which of the many versions of a great works you like. That was how I discovered this recording and if it's still available on podcast then I would suggest that you download that before you buy.
Byrd was a recusant Catholic living in a Protestant world and these masterpieces of polyphony must have been written to be performed probably at secret masses in hidden chapels in private houses. That I have equally enjoyed singing the three and four part masses in a large resonant building merely proves their quality and ability to work in a variety of settings and as we shall see musical pitch.
I already had the Tallis Scholars' rendition of these works which I found a little clinical but very pure in terms of sound. The Cardinall's Music adopt a more continental and perhaps more catholic approach and bring more depth and dynamics to the sound. David Skinner also chooses Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass for the four part and Soprano, Alto, Tenor for the three part mass which does change things quite a lot in terms of sonority. For me that means that I have two very different and worthy alternative performances and am glad to have both.
Between each Mass is there is a short organ interlude to cleanse the palate before the next offering. They are not filler and work every well.
The Cardinall's Musick are always worth hearing and I would also recommend their unique Merbecke recording (which will shock anyone who only knows his unison creed). Andre Carwood (now at St Paul's) and David Skinner add a hallmark of quality.
Definitively recommended but be aware that two of the three masses will not be as you know them.
on 30 June 2013
Listening to this rendering of Byrd's harmonies is as close as one can get to singing his music : all parts are clearly audible, individually, as well as being blended flawlessly into the whole. I bought it after hearing it on Radio 3 when it was record of the week, and have enjoyed it every time I have played it.
on 20 April 2009
This is lovely music with some gorgeous singing - Robin Blaze stands out for me - he has a wonderful counter-tenor voice. However, for me, John Taverner's music, which is transcendent and celestial, is better.