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Fabulous London - English Music for Viol Consort
John JENKINS (1592-1678)
Almain [2.08]
Richard MICO (1590-1661)
Fantasia No 3 [2.23]
Christopher SIMPSON (c.1605-1669)
Four Dances [4.28]
Division a 5 [5.26]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
Fantasia No 1 a 4 [5.24]
In Nomine & Fantasy No 1 [4.28]
Augustino BASSANO (1538-1604)
Augusto Pavan [1.49]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Browning [4.19]
Sellinger’s Round [3.59]
Anthony HOLBORNE (c.1545-1602)
The Image of Melancholly (no27) [4.26]
Galliard [1.23]
Alfonso FERRABOSCO (c.1575-1628)
Fantasia No 14 [3.20]
Tobias HUME (1569-1645)
The Passion of Musicke [4.06]
Thomas SIMPSON (1582-1627)
Bonny Sweet Robin [3.02]
John BULL (c.1562-1628)
Ut, re. mi, fa, sol, la - Chromatic hexachord Fantasy [5.00]
Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677)
Fantasie [3.14]
ANON
Chow Bente [2.40]
Les Escapades (Franziska Finckh; Sabine Kreutzberger; Barbara Pfeifer; Adina Scheyhing (viols)); Barbara Leitherer (bass viol); Andrea Cordula Baur (lute)
rec. 3-6 October 2012, Parish Church of St. Ignatius, Malsch/Sulzbach, Germany.
CHRISTOPHORUS CHR 77369 [62.46]

The twenty-one tracks on this disc cover a period from William Byrd in the golden days of Good Queen Bess, say the 1580s, up to Matthew Locke and the court of Charles II. London was thriving for much of this time despite the Great Fire and various outbreaks of pestilence culminating in the plague of 1665. It was also the Jacobean London of Shakespeare and of the Globe and the Blackfriars Theatre with its advanced technical possibilities. These could be used for masques with Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson and for performances which included much music and dancing.
 
Sabine Weber’s useful booklet notes accompanied by Visscher’s drawing of London dated 1616 tell us that Les Escapades ‘Have searched for works and have roamed “the genres in their variegated programme” to paint a picture of London. Certainly a variety of composers has emerged some, like Richard Mico represented by his Fantasia 3 are little known.
 
Speaking of which and seeing the name Augustino Bassano, represented here by the graceful Augusto Pavan reminds me that this Italian émigré who made such a success of his life in England along with the rest of his musical family was the father of Emilia Bassano a singer certainly and possibly a keyboard player. Many commentators including A.L. Rowse, consider her to have been the ‘Dark lady of the Sonnets’.
 
Anyway, on to this wide-ranging and handsome collection of fine works recorded here so tastefully by a group, which is new to me, Les Escapades. It consists of four viol players and two guests, one on bass viol and one a lutenist. They tackle many oft-recorded pieces and a few unusual ones are included though there are at least three which certainly prove and demonstrate the skill and stature of English Renaissance music of the period.
 
John Bull has two pieces in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book entitled Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la and the version here arranged for viol consort is found in Book 1 in the Dover Edition. Not only is the skilful counterpoint quite remarkable but from the simplest of starts Bull climbs into obscure flat keys, back to white notes. He then rises to sharp keys during the seventeen repetitions of the six note ground. In addition triple time and various cross-rhythms are employed. Oddly enough the piece works better for me in this version for viols as on a mean tone tuned harpsichord the modulations to A flat and later to B major sound desperately out of tune.
 
Thomas Simpson’s variants on the folksong Bonny Sweet Robin is another superb example of contrapuntal imagination. The tune, which I always associate with Ophelia in her ‘mad scene’ in Hamlet when she “sings snatches of old tunes”, is subjected to at least four variations. These include some limp syncopations and exciting divisions in the upper viols.
 
Both of these pieces are trumped by Byrd’s remarkable Browning another ‘old tune’ of the era. In Byrd’s hands the four bar theme undergoes nineteen variants. It is passed between the instruments, with differing accompanimental rhythms and textures and is moved between the modes with fluent ease. In all of these quite serious pieces Les Escapades play with verve and clarity and a beautiful balance. They also can turn their hands to the lighter, dance pieces with equal alacrity. Christopher Simpson’s Four dances,from a set of 22, are scored for treble, alto and bass viols and violone. They are nimbly played with crisp articulations and a real dance-like feel. Pavans and Galliards, a popular form at this time are also represented in Anthony Holborne’s Image of Melancholly and its ensuing Galliard.
 
There are also lute solos like the curious Chow Bente which features Andrea Cordula Baur on a ten-string instrument made in the 1990s as all of these instruments are. It’s good to have their makers and dates identified.
 
This is an enjoyable disc in every way and offers pleasure and interest to aficionados of this repertoire as well as those looking to build a collection of Renaissance music for viols.
 
Gary Higginson 





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