It is difficult to describe in words the marvellous sound of Cardinall's Musick at Fotheringhay Church last evening. This was the ninth of a series of fifteen 'Byrd Tour' concerts, but the first in a Parish Church setting. It was good to be part of the audience. Andrew Carwood, their Artistic Director, wanted to bring the Choir to this Northamptonshire village because of Fotheringhay's association with Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed at the Castle in 1587. Byrd never went to Fotheringhay but the Catholic association for the Choir was irresistible. There had been many fanatical Catholic plots to rid Elizabeth I and substitute Mary her cousin in her place. The Throckmorton Plot in the early 1580s was the most notorious and William Byrd himself came under some suspicion for a while because of his friendship with Lord Thomas Paget, the main ring-leader.
The first half of the programme could be regarded as a service of devotion and meditation. Andrew Carwood asked for applause at the end of a 45 minute sequence which included a complete performance of the 'Four Part Mass' interspersed with Mass settings for Lady Day and Easter. The joy of the Easter sequence of music could be heard in contrast to the Propers. The sound was glorious and moving. Few voices, clear, audible diction: a sublime balance. Single out the words of the 'Credo': "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, sub Pontio Pilato passus et sepultus est" ("He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate: he died and was buried"), and you could hear anguish in the voices; then the next line, "Et resurrexit tertia die secundum scripturas, et ascendit in caelum" ("And he rose on the third day according to the scriptures and ascended into heaven"), the sheer uplifting joy of that Easter event. Incredible word painting by this Choir from the pen of Byrd.
The second half contained a range of Byrd's Latin text output. Andrew Carwood described 'Regina caeli laetare' ('Rejoice, O queen of heaven') as a symphony in four movements but with only three voices: the final 'Alleluia' being passed around between the singers.
After the Winchester Festival on Tuesday (10 July) the next 'Byrd Tour' concerts are at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey on Sunday 2 September. If you love early music and fabulous choral singing then make sure you are there at what will be Cardinall's Musick's smallest and most intimate venue.