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Sublime Discourses - The Complete Instrumental Music of John Milton and Martin Peerson
Track-listing at end of review
Fretwork (Susanna Pell, Asako Morikawa (treble viol), Richard Campbell, Reiko Ichise (tenor viol), William Hunt, Richard Boothby (consort bass viol)); Michael Chance (alto)*, Sophie Yates (virginals)**
rec. 29 July 2009, Westwood Manor, Wiltshire*; 17 - 19 January 2010, The National Centre for Early Music, York, UK. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc is part of the quotation from Musick's Monument by John Mace which heads the liner-notes in the booklet for this recording. It is well suited to describe the character of the viol consort music which forms the main focus of this programme. During the 16th and early 17th centuries large amounts of consort music were written in England, mainly for performances in the homes of aristocrats. This repertoire is now frequently recorded by ensembles like Phantasm or Fretwork, but the names of Martin Peerson and John Milton appear rarely in concert or disc programmes.
Martin Peerson was probably born in March 1572 in Cambridgeshire and was educated as a keyboard player. He took a BMus degree in Oxford, and about 1624/25 became an almoner and Master of the Choristers of St Paul's Cathedral in London. His oeuvre consists of sacred music, both anthems on English texts and motets in Latin, as well as secular vocal music and instrumental pieces. This disc includes his complete instrumental oeuvre, comprising music for viol consort and four keyboard pieces.
John Milton is a more familiar name, but the one on this disc is not the famous poet. This John Milton is the poet's father who was a scrivener by profession and an amateur composer. Even so his music was well received; some of his compositions were included in collections by professional composers, for instance by Thomas Morley in his The Triumphes of Oriana. Up until recently four Fantazias for viol consort and an In Nomine by Milton were known. A fifth Fantazia was discovered, of which two parts were missing. These have been reconstructed by Richard Rastall, Emeritus Professor of Historical Musicology at Leeds University. He also prepared the editions from which Fretwork plays the music on this disc. All the pieces are or will be published by Antico Edition. The numbers between brackets refer to these editions.
Peerson's Fantasias are the most substantial part of his instrumental oeuvre. They show his mastery of counterpoint and contain some strong rhythmic contrasts. Notable are the descending figures which dominate the Fantasia Beauty in G. The Fantasia Attendite is remarkable for its daring harmonies. The Almaines are more light-hearted, but are especially interesting for their antiphonal writing. In his liner-notes Rastall refers to the way this music was played. "The players originally sat round a table to perform, and those sources copied in table-layout (that is, as a single volume written with the individual voice-parts facing the relevant players) show the positions in which they sat. We can see from this that the exchanges of material resulted in antiphonal effects between the two ends of the table, or between diagonally-opposed corners". In this recording this has been copied as the players of Fretwork sit in a circle around the microphones. In particular if one listens through headphones the effect is striking. It also results in a greater transparency, which allows the listener to follow the various parts.
Milton's Fantazias are of a more light-hearted nature, in comparison to the Fantasias of Peerson. They are closer to the latter's Almaines, but they are certainly not superficial. The Fantazia 2 is notable for its harmony. Particularly interesting is the In Nomine. Many such pieces were composed in the English renaissance, and in some cases the cantus firmus was texted. That is also the case here, and it is assumed that Milton wrote the text himself. It is sung by Michael Chance, whose voice is perfectly incorporated in the ensemble. Fretwork delivers outstanding performances, with depth and grace, and great agility in the vivid pieces and episodes.
Sophie Yates provides fine performances of Peerson's four extant keyboard pieces, which are all included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. She uses the virginals, which was also Peerson's main instrument. She plays her own instrument, a copy of the Queen Elizabeth I virginals which are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This disc should receive the full attention of all who are interested in the music of the English renaissance. I don't know how easily the discs of this label are available outside Britain. It would be a shame if it escaped the attention of the wider world. The music is of fine quality and the performances are outstanding. The liner-notes by Richard Rastall include all the information one needs fully to appreciate the repertoire and the interpretations.
On a sad note: this is the last purely instrumental recording which Richard Campbell, one of the founders of Fretwork, has made. He died March 2011 at the age of just 55. This disc is worthy of a fine artist.
P.S. Latin motets by Peerson have been recorded by Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore. That disc was reviewed here.
Johan van Veen

Martin PEERSON (c.1572-1651)
Fantasia Acquaintance a 6 in g minor (P III/2) [2:30]
Almaine a 6 in g minor (P III/3) [0:56]
Fantasia Beauty a 6 in G (P III/4) [4:28]
Almaine a 6 in G (P III/5) [0:34]
Piper's Pavan (P VI/2)** [4:23]
Fantasia Chowse a 6 in D/d minor (P III/6) [3:14]
Almaine a 6 in G (P III/7) [1:11]
Fantasia Delicate a 6 in d minor (P III/8) [4:03]
Almaine a 6 in G (P III/9) [1:12]
Alman (P VI/1)** [1:33]
John MILTON (1562-1647)
Fantazia 1 a 5 in g minor (M 16) [2:29]
Fantazia 3 a 5 in G (M 18) [2:16]
Fantasia a 6 in d minor (P III/10) [3:27]
Almaine a 6 in D (P III/11) [1:26]
Fantasia Attendite a 5 (P III/1) [4:03]
Fantazia 2 a 5 in a minor (M 17) [2:13]
In Nomine 'If that a sinner's sighs' (M 15)* [2:24]
Fantazia 4 a 5 in d minor (M 19) [2:27]
Fantasia a 6 in G (P III/12) [3:56]
Almaine a 6 in G (P III/13) [0:59]
Almaine a 6 in G (P III/14) [1:05]
Fantazia 5 a 6 in a minor (M 20) [3:23]
The Fall of the Leafe (P VI/3)** [1:39]
The Primerose (P VI/4)** [1:33]
Fantasia a 6 in d minor (P III/15) [4:02]





























































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