Following their final William Byrd album’s accolade of Record of the Year in the 2010 Gramophone Awards – only once before bestowed on an early music disc – The Cardinall’s Musick boldly go where many, many choirs have gone before. In his informative liner note, Andrew Carwood elucidates the convoluted history of the familiar modern version of Allegri’s Miserere and the happy mistranscription of that stratospheric C (here sung by a soprano).
He doesn’t explain, however, why his interpretation is pitched close to a semitone higher than any other I’ve heard on record or in concert. No matter. It’s not a cheap thrill but rather a rare and radiant pleasure.
The vocal sound is enveloping, though the recording is a little distant and the reverb doesn’t seem entirely natural to the church acoustic. Even the most exposed moments of vocal counterpoint are lush and well nigh flawless. Readings by The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen are more measured, as if in a solemn procession, but The Cardinall’s Musick take a more supple, refreshing approach.
The main event on this disc is Missa cantantibus organis, a collaborative work with seven High Renaissance composers each contributing a movement. What follows is a showcase of late 16th-century polychoral music delivered with purity of tone and the judicious occasional use of vibrato, taking the stile antico to new heights. Palestrina is the most influential of these Italian maestri – Stabile, Soriano, Dragoni, Giovannelli, Santini and Mancini won’t ring a bell for most – and their group effort is based on music from an earlier Palestrina motet of the same name, also included.