The Manchester Gamba Book (c.1660)
see end of review for track listing
Dietmar Berger (viola da gamba)
rec. St. Andreas Church, Cologne, Germany 2-5 January 2011
NAXOS 8.572863-64 [79:12 + 80:02]  

This 2 CD set is a long way from my usual nineteenth and twentieth century haunts of British music. Moreover, I must confess to finding it a bit hard going. However, that is my problem. It is certainly aimed at the specialist listener: one who has devoted his life to studying, thinking about and listening to ‘early music’. In overview, I guess that the reviewer in the ‘Manchester’ Guardian has summed up the general mood of this release well by describing it as ‘lugubrious’ music. Presumably this is not a criticism but a statement of fact.
What is the Manchester Gamba Book? Well for one thing, it is not a collection of ‘Lancastrian’ tunes. What gives the work its Mancunian connection is the fact that the collection of music was bought by the music scholar Dr. Henry Watson and was subsequently deposited as part of the Watson Collection in the Manchester Public Library. It is probably presently residing in a secret location awaiting the reopening of that great library after its major refurbishment.
The manuscript is important for a couple of reasons. Primarily, this is the largest collection of solo viol music surviving from the mid 17th century. Technically, this means that there are 246 pieces written in tablature and a further 12 numbers written in conventional staff notation. Paul Furnas, in the liner-notes, has suggested that the inclusion of a ‘Table of Graces’ (a manual of ornaments) makes this document extremely important for musicologists. Apparently there is only one other such table in existence.
I decided to check up on what a ‘viola da gamba’ actually is. One web page wisely suggested that it is not a fretted cello. The latter instrument has four strings, whereas the viola da gamba has six or seven. In addition, talking of ‘frets’ suggests a guitar. However, this instrument has ‘movable’ frets unlike the guitar: they are made of gut and are tied onto the neck. There is also a different technique for holding the bow - underhand and not overhand. Tuning is another issue altogether and is best left to those who know what they are talking about.
The history of the viol family (there are a number of different sizes) ranges across the 15th to the 18th centuries - or from Henry VIII who was an aficionado to the age of Louis XIV. Many famous composers have written for the viol including Henry Purcell, J.S. Bach, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.
Paul Furnas has pointed out that half of the 38 contributors to the Manchester Gamba Book are unknown. However, four of these composers have the surname Read. It is suggested that one of them - a certain Henrie Read was probably the editor and compiler of the manuscript. Further conjecture suggests that Richarde Sumarte, who contributed more than thirty numbers, may have been a ‘resident music teacher’ in the Read household. Sumarte set a number of ‘old English’ songs such as ‘Roben is to the greens-woode gon’ and ‘Whoope doe me no harm’. Other composers mentioned by name in the manuscript included Stephen Goodall, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Willm Younge and Thomas Martine.
The liner-notes suggest that the Paven (CD 2 Track 15) is a little masterpiece. This is apparently the most richly ornamented piece in the viol repertoire.

Dietmar Berger was born in Cologne. After studying the cello at music colleges in Aachen, Düsseldorf and Leipzig, he played in the orchestra of the Landesbühen Sachsen in Dresden. He is now based in his birthplace and plays both cello and viola da gamba. He is a member of the Trio Köln with Gudrun Höbold (violin) and Hubert Käppel (guitar). He has made a number of recordings and has contributed both compositions and arrangements for the instruments.

This double-CD is definitely for the dedicated listener. Without doubt, attending to 159 minutes of viola da gamba music would surely prove a challenge to even the most enthusiastic ‘ancient music’ fan. Yet these tunes allow the listener to enter a world of music that appears so far removed from the classical and romantic eras that dominate the musical scene. There is a timelessness about these characteristically sad, melancholic and reflective pieces that defies time itself. I may not relate to this music personally, but I can see why this collection is so important for scholars and enthusiasts. I can understand why it can be a moving experience for listeners who are attuned to the music’s mood. Certainly, Dietmar Berger plays this music with depth and what I take to be a huge understanding of the technical and historic aspects of the genre. I am sure that listeners who specialise in this music will hope that more of the Manchester Gamba Book will be recorded in the coming years. 

Finally, Naxos has provided a link to the Viola da Gamba Society of America (and not as stated in the liner notes which is a misprint) where listeners who are viol or guitar players can download the tablature of their favourite pieces.
John France

Characteristically sad, melancholic and reflective. 

Track listing
Queen Maries Dumpe (R.S.) I-1 [6:27]
A paven (Joseph Sherlie) III-11 [3:54]
Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-22 [3:17]
Fortune (R.S.) I-3 [5:42]
Roben is to the greens-woode gon (R.S.) I-4 [3:54]
Preludiu (R.S.) I-13 [1:54]
Whoope doe me no harm (R.S.) I-5 [3:31]
Daphne (R.S.) I-6 [3:40]
Monusiers Allman (R. Sumarte) I-7 [3:30]
Lachryme (R.S.) I-9 [3:56]
Solus cum Sola (R.S.) I-11 [3:31]
Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-10 [2:10]
Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-8 [1:49]
Salte pitts (R.S.) I-8 [1:58]
Untitled (Mr. Elliot, Oxon.) I-21 [3:05]
A thump (Thomas Martine) III-12 [2:51]
Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-19 [5:15]
A Coranto (G. Gerrarde) II-2 [1:07]
A Coranto (R. Sumarte) II-3 [2:22]
Saraband (Thomas Woodson) I-27 [2:41]
Untitled (Willm Younge) I-26 [3:41]
Untitled (Mr. Elliot, Oxon.) I-17 [3:41]
Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-16 [5:10]
What if a daye (?) I-2 [4:20]
Malte Man (R. Sumarte) II-1 [2:43]
Untitled (Gervise Gerrarde) III-6 [2:17]
The Buildings (R.S.) I-10 [5:39]
Preludiu (R.S.) I-15 [2:16]
The Nightengale (R.S.) I-12 [4:35]
Untitled (R.S.) I-18 [4:14]
The Kings Maske (R. Sumarte) II-4 [3:21]
Preludiu (Rich. Sumarte) I-25 [1:12]
An Almaine (Joseph Sherlie) III-7 [2:40]
Coranto (G. Willis) III-14 [1:57]
A Saraband (Wilm Kingslake) III-13 [3:27]
Untitled (John Jenkins) XIII-4 [2:54]
Almaine (John Jenkins) XI-1 [3:04]
Paven (Gervise Gerrarde) III-15 [4:53]
Preludium (R.S.) I-14 [1:01]
Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-5 [1:25]
Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-3 [1:32]
Saraband (John Jenkins) X-9 [6:50]
Untitled (R.S.) I-23 [4:12]
Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-20 [6:37]
Untitled (Anonymous) XVI-1 [3:08]
A Saraband (Wilm Younge) I-24 [5:52]
(R.S) is certainly Richard Sumarte.