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
REGENT RECORDS REGCD341 [61:34]
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
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
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]