William LAWES (1602 - 1645)
Harp Consort Suite in G [16.08]
Pavan [2.47] (4)
Corant [2.35; 1.08] (4)
Thump - Mask [1.02] (4)
Almand [1.05] (4)
Sarab Jigg [0.52] (4)
Harp Consort Suite in D [10.21] (1,2,3,4)
Pavan [2.41] (4)
Ayre [1.51] (4)
Courente [2.37]
Paven [8.59] (1,2,3,4)
Almane [2.10] (4)
Coranto [1.30] (4)
A Maske [1.45] (4)
Aire [3.02] (1,2,3,4)
Sophie Gent (violin) (1)
Giovanna Pessi (harp) (2)
Eduardo Eguez (theorbo) (3)
Philippe Pierlot (bass viol and lyra viol) (4)
rec. location not specified, August 2006
FLORA 1206 [60.50] 

Another delightful disc of William Lawes’ music from the Flora label. This time we have consorts for ‘the Harpe, Base Violl, Violin and theorbo’ and lessons for the lyra viol. Lawes’ harp consorts survive mostly complete in the autograph sources, with the first 25 pieces arranged into six suites. Though some of the movements are simply dances, others like the Pavan of the opening consort on this disc, are substantial pieces in four real parts with elaborate divisions. In fact these seem to be amongst the first consort pieces to include divisions.
The harp consort was, I believe, without precedent in English music of this time and Lawes’ consorts are the only ones to survive with a specifically composed harp part. Harp usage seems to have arisen from the harp replacing the organ in the accompaniment of solo bass viol divisions. The genre did not survive the collapse of the English Royal Court in the 1640s, and Lawes himself died in the siege of Chester. The dating of the harp consorts is not entirely clear, but the shorter pieces started out in two-part versions, receiving their fuller orchestration when Lawes was appointed to court in 1635. The larger-scale pieces, which utilise the full four-part texture of the instrumentation, were composed last, probably to act as the first movements of suites which Lawes was in process of assembling.
The Harp Consort Suite in G, which opens the disc, starts with a Pavan and then an Almane, Corant and Saraband follow. The Pavan is a huge piece, lasting over nine minutes, full of wonderful textures and explorations of quite what this combination of instruments could do.
This is then followed by a group of pieces for lyra viol solo. This was a popular instrument in the 17th century, played by both professionals and amateurs. A lyra viol can refer to an instrument slightly smaller than a consort bass viol - to permit easier fingering, and playing of faster divisions - but generally a full-sized bass viol was used. Lawes composed around forty solo pieces for the lyra viol, much of it dance-based and aimed at amateurs. What we hear on this disc has been selected to display the broad range of the music with items formed into satisfyingly attractive suites.
None of the solos is extended but they are varied and delightful. A number are anonymous, but stylistically similar to Lawes’ work, including one which uses a form of pizzicato ornament called a thump! A Maske is an anonymous arrangement of Lawes’s Aire for five viols and organ, it contains some interesting and rather daring harmonies.
The Harp Consort Suite in D minor starts with the Fantayza. It is a complex piece in which Lawes takes advantage of the harp to create as many as five or six parts, with the harp supplying the extra. A glorious movement, followed by three simpler dances Aire,Coranto,Saraband.
There are two stand-alone Harp consorts: Paven and Aire. The Paven (another substantial work) is evidently the only one of the harp consorts not based on existing material. Both pieces show Lawes developing the possibilities of the consort.
This is a lovely disc. I have always had a great weakness for William Lawes’ music and for his mixed consorts in particular. The addition of a harp to the texture gives a real lift. The recording uses a gut-strung Italian triple harp, which would be a real luxury in this music as in Lawes’ time the majority of players would probably have had to make do with a wire-strung Irish harp.
All the music on this disc is richly attractive but the five large-scale harp consort pieces (the two Pavens, the Fantayza and the free-standing Aire) are substantial and supremely rewarding. The players are consummate in their playing, responding to each other with a real feeling of a consort.
Robert Hugill 

Substantial and supremely rewarding ... consummate playing.