Some might misread Hyperion's William Byrd: Hodie Simon Petrus, featuring the Cardinall's Musick under Andrew Carwood, as "Volume II" of the William Byrd Edition, and indeed, this is only the second disc of the Cardinall's Musick in Byrd that the Hyperion Records label has released. But hold on, that should be "Volume 11" rather than "Volume II"; the first 10 volumes of this ambitious series appeared on the ASV Gaudeamus label, which unfortunately was bought out by UMG and liquidated before the series had a chance to reach fruition. One is nevertheless grateful to Hyperion to providing a home for this worthy undertaking; prior to this project, apart from his masses, hardly any of Byrd's Latin sacred music had been recorded, overshadowed by his Anglican service music and his considerable output for viol consort, keyboard, and secular songs.
Much of Byrd's sacred music comes from fairly large publications; the two sets of Cantiones Sacrae of 1589-1591 contain 61, whereas the Gradualia of 1605-1607 contains 109 pieces in all. The object in the Cardinall's Musick is to assemble these into some rough kind of liturgical context, as the original prints are a gathering of pieces that had been circulating in manuscript for some time and not assembled in a particular order. Byrd was lucky to be able to publish these volumes at all, given the anti-Catholic sentiment in Elizabethan England; the first volume of Gradualia is exactly contemporary with the Gunpowder Plot, and the Catholic faith itself in England was either in flight or in internal exile at the time. Some of Byrd's music addresses itself directly to these challenges; the motet Haec dicit Dominus from the 1591 Cantiones exhorts, "Cease your voice from crying, your eyes from tears, for there is a return on your labor...." Clearly there was an embedded message in this motet to England's Catholics to hang in there, one not entirely lost on authorities, who once arrested a man simply for owning a set of partbooks of the 1605 Gradualia. Nevertheless, Byrd published on.
The Cardinall's Musick has maintained an eager dedication to, and enthusiasm for, this project from the beginning; the singing here is loving, disciplined, pure in tone, and paced both reverently and appropriately. Enthusiasts of Byrd will no doubt be happy to see the Cardinall's Musick Byrd Edition continue; however, anyone coming to this particular fount to drink shouldn't be disappointed with the taste of the water; it is clear, cool, and refreshing.