by Michael Dervan (Irish Times - 10 August 2010)

Kilkenny 2010 Highlight: The Cardinall’s Musick’s stirring and illuminating programme of choral music by Tallis and Byrd in the Black Abbey.

The major musical event of the opening weekend of Kilkenny Arts Festival was Saturday’s concert of sacred music by two English composers, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.

Tallis (c. 1505–85) is said to have been the teacher of Byrd (c. 1540–1623), and the two men became close friends and colleagues. Their shared sympathies and collaborations extended beyond the writing of music.

They were both Catholics at a time of religious upheavals. And in 1575, when Queen Elizabeth I granted them a patent for the printing of music and lined music paper, they promptly published a joint set of Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur (usually known as Cantiones sacrae) which they dedicated to her.

The Kilkenny concert was given by the English choir The Cardinall’s Musick, whose conductor, Andrew Carwood, offered succinct and suggestive spoken introductions to the music. The first half of the evening was devoted to Tallis, the second to Byrd. And from the start of Tallis’s splendidly celebratory Loquebantur variis linguis it was clear that this was to be an evening of compellingly-projected, full-toned, gorgeously resonant singing. It was the kind of evening which had one pinching oneself to check that such edifices of sound could be produced by such a small number of voices – the choir numbers 12, but its members also sang in smaller groupings.

Each half was carefully constructed with an eye to contrast, and the choir split for a number of the items, so that the sound of Gregorian chant could be heard from afar, effectively from around the corner for most listeners in the atmospheric setting of Kilkenny’s L-shaped Black Abbey.

Byrd is audibly the more modern-sounding of the two composers, with a rhythmic movement and a cadential thrust that place a clear stylistic distance between himself and his older colleague. But it was actually the works by Tallis which made the greater impression, in spite of the fact that Carwood and his singers showed that well-known English predilection for underplaying the sometimes extraordinary dissonant clashes that are such a feature of Tallis’s work.