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Serenissima - Music from Renaissance Europe on Venetian viols
Rose Consort of Viols (John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks, Susanna Pell (viola da gamba))
rec. 2013, National Centre for Early Music, York, UK. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD34149 [71:24]

Modern viol consorts mostly play English music from the decades around 1600. That was the time this genre reigned supreme in England. It was not confined to England but was common across Europe. However, there were not that many compositions specifically intended for a consort of viols. Firstly, consort music could be played on various types of instruments, such as violins, recorders or transverse flutes. Secondly, especially before 1600, the amount of music intended for instrumental performance was limited. Ensembles of instruments mostly played dances and transcriptions of vocal music. The latter were often not printed but simply made by players themselves.

The present disc is interesting for two reasons. The first is that the Rose Consort of Viols play instruments by the same builder, Richard Jones. He copied a viol by the Italian viol maker Francesco Linarol (c1520-1577). Only one instrument of his has survived, a tenor viol from about 1540 which is preserved in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It is the earliest extant Venetian viol. On the basis of this instrument Jones built a consort of viols in different sizes. Their use in repertoire from various parts of Europe can be justified by the fact that many pieces were disseminated across the Continent pretty quickly, and some became real hits. Moreover, it was the Italian Bassano family who introduced the viol to England at the time of Henry VIII. They were from Venice, and it is quite possible that they brought with them viols that may have been comparable to the Linarol viols played here.

The second reason for this disc's importance is the playing of music from various countries. The programme shows what kind of music instrumentalists of the sixteenth century played. It opens with three pieces by Costanzo Festa, and these are specifically intended for instruments. They are from a collection of 125 contrapunti in two to eleven parts based on La Spagna, a then famous basse danse. Next follow three specimens of vocal music, alternating with three anonymous dances. All these pieces are dominated by counterpoint. As far as the vocal items are concerned, such pieces are obviously better suited to instrumental performances if there is not too strict a connection between text and music. It would be far more difficult to play madrigals by the likes of Gesualdo or Monteverdi where that connection is very close.

The next section includes music from Germany, by some of the most prominent composers of their time. Ich stund an einem Morgen was another hit of the time, often heard in arrangements of various kinds. Ludwig Senfl is probably not that well-known today, but in his time he was especially famous for his German songs. The pieces performed here are also written for voices but can be played on instruments without any problem. The melody is placed in various parts in the settings played here. Fortuna ad voces musicales is based on another popular tune, Fortuna desperata, used by several composers for parody masses. In Senfl's piece it is combined with the voces musicales, referring to the hexachord: ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la.

In the sixteenth century several publishers printed editions with pieces which could be played on various instruments or by instrumental ensembles of various kinds. One of them was Tylman Susato who was especially orientated towards the French market. The chanson Doulce mimoire by Pierre Sandrin found wide dissemination. Susato published an arrangement in three parts: the original tune by Sandrin was combined with two new parts. This section includes two other kinds of 'arrangement'. Diego Ortiz used the tune to demonstrate the art of diminution, a technique which was going to become very popular towards the end of the century. The Flemish-born composer Cipriano de Rore, who spent most of his career in Ferrara, took Sandrin's tune as the material for a parody mass. Le Jeune's Premihre Fantasie is one of just three from his pen. It is a beautiful specimen of imitative contrapuntal writing, one of the hallmarks of the stile antico.

The last section begins with a piece by a member of the above-mentioned Bassano family, one of the very few extant pieces from this dynasty. The pairing of pavan and galliard was to become one of the most common in England in the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries. Anthony Holborne included many of them in his collection of instrumental music published in 1599. It marked the evolution of instrumental music to being taken seriously as a genre of its own. Another popular genre was the In nomine, based on the Sarum antiphon Gloria tibi Trinitas. The versions recorded here are markedly different: Parsley wrote a slow forward-moving contrapuntal work whereas Tye's In Nomine Howld fast is a lively piece which includes a section in which every part has its own rhythm. The fantasia was another genre which was held in high esteem. Many pieces of this kind were written until the time of the Restoration in the seveneteenth century, when King Charles II expressed his detestation of the 'fancy'. A Song of Mr Robert Parsons is not really a song but such a 'fancy', with remarkable false relations.

In regard to repertoire and instruments this is a most interesting disc. Those are reasons enough to urge any lover of consort music to add this recording to his collection. Another good reason is the playing of the Rose Consort of Viols. They produce a beautiful sound; in the more dense pieces the instruments blend wonderfully well. Elsewhere there is quite a lot of transparency which allows the listener to follow the various parts. This is especially important in pieces with a tune as a cantus firmus in one of the lower parts. The players shape the lines beautifully, and in the more vivid pieces they play with great rhythmic precision.

This is a very valuable collection of Renaissance instrumental music.

Johan van Veen

Track Listing
Costanzo FESTA (c1485-1545)
Contrapuncti on La Spagna
Contrapunto 103 [1:40]
Contrapunto 77 [1:14]
Contrapunto 93 [1:51]
Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517)
Palle, palle [2:03]
Philippe VERDELOT (c1480-c1532)
Altro non h'l mio amore [2:51]
anon (c1530)
La morte de la ragione [2:11]
La manfrolina [0:40]
La traditora [1:55]
Heinrich ISAAC
La my la sol [2:55]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594)
Im Mayen [1:06]
Heinrich ISAAC
Ich stund an einem Morgen [1:36]
Ludwig SENFL (c1486-1543)
Ich stund an einem Morgen a 3 [3:44]
Ich stund an einem Morgen a 4 [1:42]
Fortuna ad voces musicales [2:44]
Orlandus LASSUS
O sacrum convivium [2:44]
Claude LE JEUNE (c1530-1600)
Premihre fantasie [6:41]
Tylman SUSATO (c1510-1570)
Doulce mimoire a 3 [2:35]
Diego ORTIZ (c1510-c1570)
Doulce mimoire (after Pierre Sandrin) [3:04]
Cipriano DE RORE (1516-1565)
Missa Doulce mimoire:
Kyrie [3:02]
Augustine BASSANO (c1526-1604)
Pavan and Galliard [3:09]
Osbert PARSLEY (1511-1585)
In Nomine a 4 No. 2 [2:54]
Christopher TYE (c1505-1572/73)
In Nomine 'Howld fast' [1:19]
Philip VAN WILDER (c1500-1553)
Fantasia con pause e senza pause [4:07]
anon (c1560)
Pavana [1:20]
Gallyard [1:11]
Ronda [0:33]
La Represa [0:50]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Fantasia a 3 No. 2 [2:27]
Robert PARSONS (c1535-1572)
A Song of Mr Robert Parsons [2:06]
Antony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602)
Pavan and Galliard (41/42) [4:55]