> William Lawes - Consort Sets in Five and Six Parts [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William LAWES (1602-1645)
Consort Sets in Five and Six Parts

Consort set à 5 in g minor
Consort set à 5 in a minor
Consort set à 5 in c minor
Consort set à 5 in F major
Consort set à 5 in C major
Consort set à 6 in g minor
Consort set à 6 in C major
Consort set à 6 in F major
Consort set à 6 in B flat major
Consort set à 6 in c minor
Hespèrion XXI/Jordi Savall
Rec: November 2001, January - February 2002, Chapel of Cardona Castle, Catalonia.
ALIA VOX AV 9823 A+B [115.38]


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In the notes to this set, Jordi Savall suggests that William Lawes’ consort sets "deserve to be ... known as one of the most original masterpieces of chamber music of all time," and compares them to Dowland’s Lachrimae, Purcell’s Fantasias, Bach’s Art of Fugue, Haydn’s Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross and Beethoven’s late string quartets. This is impressive company indeed, and, while this music is profound and moving, I’m not sure that it deserves such accolades.

Consort sets are like suites - each one contains several movements (three or four) in the same key, developing the same themes. The 5 part consort sets are played by 5 viols and organ, and the 6 part sets by 2 violins, 4 viols and organ. Savall and his fellow musicians play this music with a great deal of emotion and technical expertise, but what stands out most with this music is the atmosphere and overall sound. The lush, rich sound of viol consorts is a delight to the ear, with beautiful textures and enchanting tones. But the unity of the consort makes it more difficult to hear the individual lines than, say, with a string quartet, which has a more incisive sound. This music must be listened to more closely to be appreciated, but the effort is worth it.

The beautifully subtle counterpoint here in some of the slower movements and the energetic playing of the fast movements balance each other out; this music needs to be heard on a large scale, that of an entire consort set, to be fully appreciated. This is a fine recording, showing the technical expertise that Savall brings to such works. It certainly deserves to be discovered by those unfamiliar with this repertoire. For those familiar with the viol consort, this is an essential recording of some of its finest music.

Kirk McElhearn

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