William LAWES (1602-1645)
The Royal Consort
Daniel Hyde (organ)
Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo)
Emily Ashton (tenor viol)
Phantasm/Laurence Dreyfus (treble viol)
rec. Chapel of Magdalen College. Oxford, 2013/14. DDD/DSD
Reviewed as 24/96 download from hyperion-records.co.uk
(also available in mp3 and 16-bit lossless and from linnrecords.com
additionally on SACD and in 24/192 format, all with pdf booklet).
LINN RECORDS CKD470 SACD [73:26 + 70:57]
Royal Consort Setts 1-10: CHAN0584 - Purcell
Quartet with Nigel North, Paul O’Dette (theorbo), Susanna Pell (viol)
– rec.1994 [126:12] – 2 CDs or download from theclassicalshop.net.
The brothers William and Henry Lawes were among the foremost musicians
of the early seventeenth century. Henry composed the music for Milton’s
Comus and was the recipient of one of his sonnets. Had William,
a staunch Royalist supporter in the English Civil War, not died young
at the Siege of Chester, we might well be remembering him alongside
Purcell as one of the century’s greatest musicians. Vocal music by both
brothers can be found on a recording of Henry’s Ayres (Mirare
MIR177) which I reviewed in DL
News 2014/8 and in a Harmonia Mundi release, The Rags of Time
(HMU907257), which I mentioned in the same review.
If you are looking for an inexpensive introduction to William Lawes’
consort music, there’s a good selection on Naxos 8.550601: the Rose
Consort of Viols with Timothy Roberts (organ), Jacob Heringman and David
Miller (lute and theorbo) perform two of the Royal Consort Setts (suites),
three consort setts from other collections, three pieces for two lutes
and a Paven (pavane) in g minor. (Sample/stream/download from Qobuz,
That taster, however, may well lead you to explore Lawes’ music further,
in which case you would be well served by both the Chandos and Linn
recordings. Actually they are not strictly comparable: the Chandos features
the revised six-part consorts whereas the Linn employs the earlier,
leaner four viols plus theorbo scoring which Laurence Dreyfus claims
in the notes as greatly superior.
The other difference is that whereas Chandos offer just the ten Setts
of the Royal Consort in numerical order, Linn vary the order and include
three other works, including three Setts to the Organ which could not
be included in their very fine earlier CD of Lawes’ music (CKD399: Recording
of the Month – review
Roundup July 12/2).
I’ve already mentioned Laurence Dreyfus’s notes for his categorical
statement that the six-part scoring with violins spoils the textures
of these works. That’s not the only controversial assertion: at the
outset he nails his colours to the mast in defying Dr. Burney’s description
of this music as dull, asserting it as ‘one of the greatest collections
of ensemble dance music ever composed’ alongside Dowland’s Lachrimę,
Rameau’s ballets, Bach’s Suites and the music of Johann Strauss II.
I’m not sure that I go along entirely with either of these assertions:
though I greatly enjoyed the music as his group presents it, I also
enjoyed the Chandos performances of the 6-part versions and I’m not
sure that I shall listen to either quite as often as the other dance-related
music to which he refers, to which I’d also add Prętorius’s Terpsichore.
Whichever version you choose, this is very enjoyable and varied music.
Both ensembles bring out the sheer delight of the various movements
and though the 4-viol version theoretically brings greater clarity,
there’s no problem in distinguishing all six parts on the Chandos album.
If anything the new Phantasm recording makes the music sound not sparer
but fuller in tone. I’m no shakes as a dancer but both recordings make
me want to skip along without making the music sound at all facile.
It’s not possible to do an exact like-for-like comparison because Lawes
added extra bars and whole extra movements to the six-part versions:
Sett No.1, for example, which runs to 6:47 on Linn is 12:15 on Chandos.
That also means that the difference in playing time is less than you
might expect, despite the addition of four other works on Linn.
Both are well recorded. The Linn scores by its availability in 24-bit
sound – 24/192 even, if you are willing to pay for it – and on SACD.
In the past when I have been able to compare the HD stereo tracks on
a Linn SACD with the 24/96 download I have found no discernable difference
between the two.
Controversial assertions notwithstanding, I found Dreyfus’s 14 pages
of notes very informative. Bruce Wood’s notes in the Chandos booklet
are shorter but also very valuable.
This is a case of paying your money and taking your pick. Unfortunately
I can’t point you to a way of comparing the two. If you subscribe to
the very valuable Naxos Music Library, you’ll find the Linn, but not
the Chandos, there – but don’t be tempted to press the iTunes purchase
button when you will find better quality downloads from Hyperion and
If you follow my advice to obtain one of these recordings of the Royal
Consort music you may well be looking for more music by William Lawes.
An obvious choice would be the earlier Linn recording of the Setts to
the Organ which I’ve mentioned. Another option would be to obtain his
more reflective eight Fantasia-Suites for two violins, bass viol and
organ: the Purcell Quartet on Chandos CHAN0552, CD or download from
or London Baroque on Harmonia Mundi Musique d’Abord HMA1901423, no longer
available on disc – sample/stream from Qobuz or download inexpensively
Since writing the above I have
received the physical SACDs. As I anticipated, having compared Linn
SACDs and 24-bit downloads before, the HD stereo layer on the discs is
virtually indistinguishable from the download. If there is a slight
advantage in openness to the SACDs it’s probably attributable to the
fact that the DACs in my SACD and blu-ray players are marginally better
than the Dragonfly DAC which I use with my computer.
grumble about the SACDs which I must mention: the booklet is so tightly
wedged into its pocket within the triptych which houses the discs that I
found it impossible to get it in and out without tearing it. Otherwise
this is a very desirable release in any format. You should be able to
find the SACDs from
Amazon UK and
Amazon US for rather less than the £18 which Linn and Hyperion
charge for the 24/96 download but if you are happy with 16-bit lossless
the download is less expensive (£10).
Royal Consort Sett No.1 in d minor [6:47]
Royal Consort Sett No.4 in D [13:37]
Royal Consort Sett No.3 in d minor [8:34]
Royal Consort Sett No.5 in D [10:58]
Royal Consort Sett No.8 in C [7:08]
Royal Consort Sett No.9 in F [14:56]
IV Sett a5 in F ‘to the Organ’ [11:05]
Royal Consort Sett No.2 in d minor [12:15]
Royal Consort Sett No.6 in D [6:12]
Royal Consort Sett No.7 in a minor [8:52]
Royal Consort Sett No.10 in B flat [10:54]
Sett a4 in d minor [8:53]
X Sett a6 in C ‘to the Organ’ [13:12]
VII Sett a6 in C ‘to the Organ’ [10:12]