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Recorder Quartet: Italian and English Renaissance Consort Music
CD 1 Early Italian Recorder Music

Giovanni RICCIO (d. c.1620) Sonata No 4; Dario CASTELLO (d. 1629) Sonatas 15 and 16; Gianbattista GRILLO (d. 1622) Canzona II a 8; Giovanni GABRIELI (1567-1613) Canzon seconda and Canzon II a 8 and Canzon prima ‘La Spiritata’; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1563-1643) Capriccio (di obligo di cantare) and Capriccio (sopra la bassa fiamenga); Constanzo PORTA (1528-1601) Girometta a 8; Giovanni TRABACI (1575-1647) Canzona franzesa settima; Giosette GUAMI (1540-1611) Canzon 25 a 8; Giovanni da PALESTRINA (1525-1594) Ricercar del terzon tuono
CD 2 Browning my dere – English Consort Music

William BYRD (1543-1623) The leaves be greene; In Nomine I and IV; Christopher TYE (1505-1572) In Nomine Reporte; In Nomine Crye; In Nomine Re la te; Sit fast; Henry STONINGS (16th century) Browning my dere; Clement WOODSTOCK (c. 1575) Browning my dere; John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Lacrimae Antiqua; Sir Henry Upton’s funeral; The Earle of Essex Galliard; Semper Dowland simper dolens; The King of Denmark’s Galliard; John BALDWIN (1560-1615) browning a 3; Proportions of a minim; Cuckow as I wake; Elway BEVAN (1564-1638) Browning; John WARD (1571-1638) Fantasia; Richard DEERING (1580-1630) Fantasia; John OKEOVER (1590-1663) Fantasia; Thomas SIMPSON (1562-1630) Canzon
Flanders Recorder Quartet with Maria Verbruggen. CD1: Viol da Gamba ensemble and Guy Penson, (harpsichord) and Guy de Mey (tenor).
rec. Studio Steurbout, Ghent, Belgium, 1992
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92504 [66.26 + 63.21]

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Brilliant Classics once again hit the mark with some rare and delightful chamber music. This time the selection mainly involves recorders and the music is largely from the period 1550-1640. The set usefully allows comparison of Italian and English renaissance styles. The pieces are beautifully played and happily the set comes with comprehensible - in fact, ideal - programme notes.

The Italian pieces are in a sense more interesting because the recorder consort is mixed with a consort of viols on some tracks and sometimes a harpsichord acting as a continuo as can be seen above, and therefore there is more textural variety, but the selection of English pieces shows this country’s predilection at the time for tunes accompanied by chords especially in the music of Dowland as well as the more severe polyphonic works, like the several ‘Browning’ pieces which use a popular melody of the time ‘The Leaves be green’ as an excuse for complex variations. William Byrd’s example, which opens the second CD, is perhaps the most inspiring and finest example. The other pieces using this melody although attractive never quite live up to it, with the exception that is of a composer little known and new to me, John Baldwin who is represented by three pieces one a fascinating didactic exercise in the divisions of a minim into every possible combination and often consecutively.

Another didactic piece is the almost seven minute ‘Sit fast’ by Christopher Tye one of the earliest composers of consort music, again this divides the beat in even more complexity and is a joy to hear played so brilliantly.

There are also a number of In Nomine’s some by Tye. These free pieces use a fragment of plainchant from the ‘Missa Gloria tibi trinitas’ by the earlier English composer John Tavener, around which complex counterpoint is weaved. These may originally also have been used by composer/teachers as didactic exercises but then took on a life of their own, dying out for while before Purcell, as a teenager, took up the form briefly as he learned counterpoint himself.

The great John Dowland is represented by a series of pieces some being song arrangements and others like the ‘Lacrimae Pavan’ scored originally by Dowland for viol consort but here played most successfully by recorders alone. I was reminded in this sensitive performance, again by the fineness of his ‘Semper Dowland semper Dolens’ Pavan, this motto being his own by-word. John Ward’s ‘Fantasia’ represents a period after the ‘In Nomine’ had died out, indeed you could think here that you were listening to an instrumental version of a madrigal. The Fantasia by Richard Deering leads us nicely into the Italian music as he was apparently a pupil of Gabrieli and even Monteverdi and his music does have an unusually dramatic character for a Renaissance English man.

The Italian pieces include an example of a Ricercar demonstrating Palestrina’s polyphony which, especially in the context of the later composers Gabrieli, Castello and Merula for example, seems perfect in its purity. Many of these pieces use imitative counterpoint as their starting point. Giovanni Picchi’s attractive Canzon 19 is a lively imitative piece with recorders and viols acting as a double choir [with harpsichord accompaniment] answering each other, sometimes overlapping, then together and each with a slightly differing musical style. Typically it includes a section in triple time with shorter antiphonal phrases. More homophonic in style and therefore more representative of the early 17th century is Dario Castello, especially his Sonata No 15. The pieces recorded are mostly Sonata’s and ‘Canzonas’ but Frescobaldi is represented by a ‘Capriccio’. This, according to the anonymous booklet notes, means music of a "whimsical, fanciful character with sudden contrasts and rubati’. Is it the performance ? This does not come across at all, there are some contrasts certainly but it all seems rather serous and the dynamics are rather unvaried.

I must say immediately however that although the ‘Flanders’ Recorder Quartet was a new name to me I am generally most impressed with the whole CD. The tuning and musicianship the choice of repertoire and varied articulation, and the sense of ensemble are most delightful and I will not criticize any part of it except that lack of dynamics contrast which I realize are not easy to define on the recorder anyway sometimes tires the ear especially in the English music.

The recording is immediate and although close has space also around it. The notes on the music and composers are helpful and very readable there are some photos of the instruments [modern copies] and performers and also some biographies.

I recommend this disc to everyone with an interest in Renaissance music and/or early chamber music.

Gary Higginson

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