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Cynthia's Revels
The Flautadors Recorder Quartet (Catherine Fleming, Merlin Harrison, Celia Ireland, Ian Wilson) with Leo Chadburn (recorder)*
rec. 2014, St Jude-on-the-Hill, London, UK. DDD

Music for an ensemble of instruments, generally known as consort music, was written and performed in England from the late 15th century to the late 17th century. The heyday of this form of musical entertainment is to be found in the decades around 1600, when England experienced a golden era under the rule of Elizabeth I and James I. Elizabeth herself - she is the Cynthia to whom the title of this disc refers - was a skilled musician who played the virginals; she was also a lover of dancing. This disc documents the kind of music which was written in England at the time and was performed at the court and in the homes of the aristocracy.

The main composers of the time are represented. The programme opens with two pieces by Anthony Holborne who in 1599 published the first collection of instrumental music printed in England. He returns later in the programme, and the pieces selected from this collection are quite different in character. Some are a kind of character piece, whereas others are dances such as the pavan and the galliard as they were played and danced in the upper echelons of society. These two dances were often performed as a pair. The most famous pavan from the English renaissance is the Lachrimae pavan by John Dowland, here performed in the arrangement by the Dutch recorder player Jacob van Eyck.

Fantasias - often called fancies - were also an important part of instrumental music at the time, reflecting the counterpoint which was one of the main features of the old style that dominated England until the late 17th century. The programme includes specimens by Holborne, Ferrabosco, Morley and Byrd. The latter is also represented with an In nomine, another important genre of instrumental music, based on a phrase from John Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi trinitas. A further example of such a piece is by Christopher Tye, probably a less well-known master from the English renaissance, who has remained a little in the shadow of Tallis.

Not all the music recorded here was conceived as music for a consort of instruments. Giles Farnaby is mainly known for his keyboard pieces which are especially well represented in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Bonny Sweet Robin is for keyboard and is sometimes also attributed to Bull or Byrd. As a number of pieces from this time have been preserved in various forms there is no objection gainst performing such pieces with an ensemble of instruments. Hugh Aston's Maske is also an example of a piece which exists in several versions. The best-known is that for keyboard; here it is presented in a version which combines parts attributed to Hugh Aston with another part apparently from the pen of a certain William Wytebroke, about whom nothing seems to be known.

Elizabeth liked dancing, and this was one of the main preoccupations of all the classes at the time, although the kinds of dance differed from one social class to the next. Some anonymous dances are grouped here as suites of contrasting nature.

Consort music can be played by various groups of instruments. We mostly hear consorts of viols but in England the recorder consort had its own place. In fact, it was the favourite ensemble of Henry VIII. He was an avid recorder player, owned a large number of recorders and had five members of the Italian Bassano family at his court who played and built recorders.

Playing recorders in ensemble is not an easy task, especially in regard to tuning. This is one of the assets of this disc: the members of the Flautadors Recorder Quartet play in perfect harmony. I especially like their beautiful and relaxed sound; there is really no hint of stress. The rhythmic suppleness of the group manifests itself in the dances. Their previous disc - devoted to music for Mary Queen of Scots - was enthusiastically received by Gary Higginson. This disc deserves an equally enthusiastic welcome as we have here a beautiful and varied programme, including some less familiar pieces, all in splendid performances.

Johan van Veen

Anthony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602)
The Fruit of Love (58)/Wanton (61) [2:27]
Richard DERING (c1580-1630)
Pavan* [4:07]
anon (attr Hugh ASTON, c1485-1558?)
Hugh Aston's Maske [3:40]
Fantasia 3 No. 2 [2:36]
William BYRD (1540-1623)
Earl of Oxford's March [3:14]
Giles FARNABY (c1563-1640)
Bonny Sweet Robin [1:52]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626), arr Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)
Frog Galliard* [1:04]
William BYRD
In Nomine [2:32]
John DOWLAND, arr Jacob VAN EYCK (1590-1657)
Lachrimae pavane [3:10]
Can she excuse my wrongs [2:30]
Elway BEVIN (c1555-1638)
Browning [3:24]
Pavan (13)* [3:46]
The Choise (59)*/Honiesuckle (60)* [2:16]
Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (1575-1628)
Fantasia in four parts No. 9 [4:54]
Queen's Almain
William BYRD
Coranto [3:32]
Christopher TYE (1505-1572)
In Nomine IX 'Farewell my good one, for ever'* [2:06]
Fantasia No. 5 'Il lamento' [2:42]
Pavan/Galliard/Almande 'Prince'/Almande 'Le Pied de Cheval'/The Earl of Essex Measure [4:47]
William BYRD
Fantasia 4 No. 1 [4:10]
Pavane [2:58]
Dance/Ronda/La represa [3:13]



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