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The Trio Sonata in 17th Century England
Orlando GIBBONS (1583 - 1625)

Three Fantasias á 3 (c.1620) [7.48]
John COPRARIO (1570? - 1626)

Fantasia Suite (1620s) [5.47]
William LAWES (1602 - 1645)

Sett No. 1 (early 1620s) [9.30]
John JENKINS (1592 - 1678)

Fancy and Ayre (c.1650) [9.19]
Fantasia á 3 (c. 1650) [5.04]
Matthew LOCKE (1621 - 1677)

Suite in d (1651) [6.13]
Christopher SIMPSON (1605 - 1669)

Suite in D (c.1650) [9.45]
John BLOW (1649 - 1708)

Sonata in A ("early") [5.49]
Ground in g (pre-1695) [3.48]
Henry PURCELL (1659 - 1695)

Sonata XX in D, Z.811 (1697) [5.23]
London Baroque: Ingrid Siefert, Richard Gwilt, vv; Charles Medlam, bass viol; Terence Charlston, harpsichord, organ
BIS BIS-CD-1455 [70.15]

Comparison recordings:
Purcell Z811; Ciompi, Torkanowski, Koutzen, Chessid, Period LP (OP)

Recently in a review of another disk I said: "It is a tremendous pleasure to be able just to relax and enjoy while the performers and engineers do everything right." That lavish praise might apply to the recordings on this disk as much as to the other, but the other disk was of music universally loved and appreciated, and performed with considerably more theatricality.

Something else is wrong, too. What could have possessed them to choose a double bass and chamber organ as continuo instruments during the first pieces? The result is that the music has a plodding, monotonous, growling quality. All one has to do is imagine this music being played with a viola da gamba and harpsichord as continuo instruments and a great deal more life would appear in it. When they start using harpsichord on track 13 the result is much more satisfactory, and the Matthew Locke comes off as the best music on the disk up to then. Do they mean to tell us the harpsichord wasn’t invented until 1650? If it was their intention to present the Gibbons and Lawes as solemn religious music, they would need to project a more mystical, spiritually expressive style. No matter how you solve the equations, dullness in music is never authentic.

I have several times written in praise of performances that deliberately understate certain qualities in the music, but here I think I may have to eat my own words. If I imagine these works as played by the semi-romantic instrumental ensembles of the 1960s, or even by "original instrument" ensembles of the 1980s, again, things would come to life. Here figurations are dampened, slowed down; contrasts are muddled, phrases are flattened out. Why?

The notes read: "This CD is the first of a projected series of eight discs dedicated to tracing the development and establishment of the trio sonata as the central form of the baroque era — and at the same time presenting a kind of ‘best of’ anthology." No way. I can’t believe this is the best Lawes or the best Gibbons, and I know absolutely it’s not the best Purcell. Have they chosen lesser works by the greater composers to achieve a uniformity of quality to accent differences in style? If so, was that wise?

The surprise hit of the disk is the Blow Ground in g. However as soon as the Purcell begins the musical temperature goes up sharply and we move up one circle of Heaven from where we’ve been listening before, even though this is hardly the best Purcell. The Blow and the Purcell are the best performances on the disk, but not quite up to some other "bests" I can think of. I think scholarship has defeated the performers in their stated goals. The result is a sweet, mostly ‘growly’ disk, a graduate thesis of a disk, but its resulting low entertainment value puts it in the background music category.

The "Sonata XX" by Purcell is also known as Sonata #10 from the 1697 "Sonatas of Four Parts" and Zimmerman No.811. The first 12 sonatas for the identical combination of instruments were published in 1683 as "Sonatas of Three Parts," all of which goes to show how indebted we are to Prof Zimmerman for all his good work.

Paul Shoemaker

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