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Christopher SIMPSON (c.1605-1669)
Ayres and Graces

Chelys Consort of Viols (Ibrahim Aziz, Alison Kinder, Amily Ashton, Jennifer Bullock (viols))
Tan Tidhar (chamber organ, harpsichord)
James Akers (theorbo, baroque guitar)
rec. 2013, Girton College Chapel, Cambridge, England
BIS BIS-2153 SACD [59:38]

Brian Wilson reviewed this recording as a download, referencing some earlier recordings of music by Christopher Simpson and providing some interesting further places to explore. I have to admit knowing nothing about Simpson before now, though there does seem to be something of a renaissance in taste for the viol and viol consorts in the variety of recordings appearing from numerous quarters.

Christopher Simpson's life has left little in the way of written records, so we have few details other than that he was a quarter-master for the Earl of Newcastle, who was on the Royalist side during the English Civil War. His theoretical treatise 'A Compendium of Practical Musick in 5 parts, teaching by a New, and easie Method' has survived and was first published in 1665. Purcell considered it 'the most ingenius book I e'er met with upon this subject'. Alex Parker has transcribed the works heard here from a variety of sources, and it his booklet notes that guide us through the background to the music. Ibrahim Aziz provides notes on the recording, including the choices for continuo and aspects of ornamentation.

Using copies from English instruments from the first half of the 17th century with gut strings, this has to be considered as a close approximation, and possibly a highly accurate reflection of the kind of sound Simpson and his audiences would have enjoyed. Either way, the sound is rich and colourful, with superbly intonated harmonies, nicely natural-sounding phrasing and plenty of contrast between the slower music and those propelled by gentle dance rhythms. Instrumental colour is also treated to subtle contrast, with the baroque guitar adding rhythmic liveliness to something like the Divisions in A minor on track 9. The chamber organ gives depth to the harmonic fundamentals in the slower music, over which the viols can play expressively and with their more upper-harmonic rich spectrum.

Simpson is not as adventurous a composer as his contemporary William Lawes, but this release would make a fine companion to the excellent recording made for Linn records by ensemble Phantasm (see review). Recorded in a suitably airy but not too large acoustic, there's a very slight 'rumble' you might notice just before the music starts, but beyond that the quality is excellent. This debut recording from the Chelys Consort of Viols is easy to love and is warmly recommended.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Brian Wilson

20 Ayres for Two Trebles and Two Basses: Nos 14-16 in D minor
Pavin [5:03]
Galliard [1:43]
Aire [1:12]
20 Ayres: Nos 4-7 in B flat major
Pavin [3:55]
Galliard [1:56]
Aire [1:43]
Sarabande [0:58]
Two Divisions
Divisions in F major for two bass viols [3:01]
Divisions in A minor for treble and bass viol [1:30]
20 Ayres: Nos 1-3 in C major
Pavin [4:29]
Aire [2:09]
Sarabande [1:49]
20 Ayres: Nos 17-20 in G minor
Pavin [5:06]
Galliard [1:57]
[Aire] [2:03]
[Sarabande] [1:38]
Two Divisions
Divisions in C major for two bass viols [2:15]
Divisions in A minor for treble and bass viol [2:12]
20 Ayres: Nos 8-13 in D major
Pavin [4:41]
Aire [1:52]
Corant [1:35]
Aire [1:44]
Aire [1:20]
[Sarabande] [1:58]


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