> Fitzwilliam Virginal Book [PW] : Classical Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book: Transcriptions for a mixed consort
1 William BYRD Walsingham
2 Giles FARNABY Loth to depart
3 Thomas MORLEY O Mystress Myne
4 Giles FARNABY Lord Zouches Maske
5 John BULL Ut re mi fa sol la
6 William BYRD Pavana;
7 William BYRD Galiarda
8 Giles FARNABY Daphne
9 Giles FARNABY Up [T]ails All
10 William INGLOTT The leaves bee greens
11 Martin PEARSON The Fall of the Leafe
12 John BULL The King’s Hunt
13 Orlando GIBBONS The Lord of Salisbury his Pavan
14 William BYRD Rowland
16 Jan SWEELINCK Praeludium Toccata
17 Peter PHILIPS Amarilli di Julio Romano
18 William BYRD Gipsies Round
Charivari Agréable: Susanne Heinrich - viols; Lynda Sayce - flute and lute; Kah-Ming Ng - keyboards. With Rupert Jennings - tenor; Oliver Webber - violin; Susanna Pell and Reiko Ichese - bass viols; Jacob Heringman - cittern and lute
Recordings made in St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire on 1-3 February 1999
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Here is something of a new(ish) development for the ‘early music movement’. This recording is of a period instrument chamber group playing a programme of early music (all well known pieces from that greatest of sources of English renaissance keyboard music) entirely in modern arrangements. The Fitzwilliam Virginal book includes no consort music, and yet the Elizabethan era is filled with works specifically written for instrumental consorts. So why this disc? Of course, in this day and age, the performing group can do as they please and the public can take it or leave it; but it does underline the major shift that has occurred in ‘early music’ circles in recent years, whereby the ‘scholarly’ is often laid to one side in favour of the ‘commercial’. This disc has really no more claim to be ‘early music’ than Respighi’s arrangements for orchestra of "Ancient Airs and Dances". These too have enjoyed a new lease of popularity in recent years, and rightly so.

That having been said - and it is up to the reader to determine whether such reconstructed music is a good thing or a bad thing - there is much to enjoy in this programme. Most of the performances are based around a viol consort with lute or harpsichord and all are played with a joyful verve. [Sample 1] Many well-known tunes are included; Walsingham, O mistress mine and The leaves be green, to name but three. Some variety of timbre is provided by the inclusion of some of these pieces in their original song versions and one (The King’s Hunt by John Bull) makes use of a flute. This is an idea that could have been exploited far more. If keyboard music is going to be arranged for ensemble (and the reader may have gathered from the opening paragraph that this reviewer is not quite convinced of the necessity) then exploiting the textures of the contemporary ‘broken consort’ with violin, flute (recorder) and viol contrasted with lute, bandora and cittern would surely have been the most sensible course of action. Again, the lack of this sort of texture makes one wonder as to the reasons behind the arrangements. In this case it seems as though the traditional broken consort model does not provide interesting enough viol parts, and Charivari Agréable is a viol-based group.

While the viol playing (and the lute playing for that matter) is consistently admirable, the same cannot be said for the singing of Rupert Jennings. His words are clear and audible, but the sound with which he makes them is most unpleasant; tight and constricted without any of the sense of ease in the upper register that makes good tenors so nice in song repertoire. Jennings manages to sound as if he were a baritone straining to go high and I find it surprising that the producer let these tracks through. His ornamentation is uncomfortable and tuning, neither modern nor historic - just odd. [Sample 2] Frankly, these sung tracks made this reviewer reach for the "skip" button.

Scholarly problems behind the arrangements do, however, fade rapidly when listening to playing like that of the final track [Sample 3] wherein unfettered abandon is displayed. This sort of performance makes any arrangement justifiable and it is something of a pity that this ‘curate’s egg’ of a disc did not exploit more of that style and less of the variably successful song style.

Peter Wells

Sample 1; track 4 start 1’03"

Sample 2; track 8 start 4’00"

Sample 3; track 18 start 2’55"

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Loth to depart

O Mystress Myne arr. Byrd

Lord Zouches Maske

Ut re mi fa sol la



Up tails all

The leaves bee greene

The fall of the leafe

The King's hunt

The Lord of Salisbury his Pavan



Praeludium Toccata

Amarilli di Julio Romano

Gipseis Round

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