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Alfonso FERRABOSCO the Younger (c.1575-1628)
The Art of Fantasy: Music for Consort and Lyra Viol
Fantasias, Pavans, Almains, Galliards and Corantos: details after review
Hathor Consort/Romina Lischka (treble viol, tenor and bass lyra viol)
rec. 2018, Begijnhofkerk, Sint-Truiden, Belgium
Reviewed as lossless press preview.
RAMÉE RAM1806 [76:32]

Alfonso Ferrabosco the Younger was, unsurprisingly, the (illegitimate) son of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder. After his father returned to Italy, Queen Elizabeth insisted that the son remain in England, such was, presumably, the value she placed on his father’s music.

In the next generation the same appreciation was accorded to Ferrabosco junior.  Ben Jonson, with whom he collaborated, regarded his vocal works highly: ‘the proofes of all these [praises of the Art] be / Shed in thy Songs’. Some of that vocal music is contained in an album Amorous Dialogues (Emma Kirkby, The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley, Eloquence 4804144, mid-price) and one or two others occur in recitals, but to test Jonson’s praise we really need to have the songs better represented.

This is, I believe, only the second recording from the Hathor Consort: their first, for the Fuga Libera label, released in 2014, was of Dowland’s Lachrimæ (FUG718). I ‘had no real complaints’ about that album, which sounds like damning with faint praise, but that was mainly because my press preview came at a low bit-rate. Ralph Moore, listening to the CD, was much more positive – review. Thanks to Outhere’s UK distributors, I was able to listen to the new Ramée in full-fat wav sound, so no problems with quality.

In Dowland, the Hathor Consort were treading deservedly well-frequented ground, with plenty of competition. Like Beethoven for a later generation, Dowland dominated the viol consort field, so we hear little of what his contemporaries composed. Ferrabosco has a walk-on part on some recordings of Dowland and his contemporaries, as, for example a mainly vocal Harmonia Mundi release entitled Crystal Tears (HMC901993, CD + DVD – DL News 2013/3).

One thing that I liked about that Harmonia Mundi album is that the instrumental and vocal music are interspersed. About recordings like the present Ramée, where we have a whole programme of music for viol consort, I have to enter a proviso about the lack of variety. Of course, the more intellectual fantasias (or fancies) are offset with dance movements of various kinds – pavan, galliard, almain and coranto – and two In Nomines, about which more later, but even these are apt to sound less varied to the modern ear.

Despite the high quality of the playing of the Hathor Consort, then, this is very much a recording for specialists, and even they will probably prefer to dip in and out. Nor do I think there is much to be gained from rival recordings from the Ricercar Consort (Ricercar RIC256, 2 CDs budget-price, with Byrd Songs on CD1) or Jordi Savall’s Hespèrion XXI (Alia Vox AV9832).

Even the wonderful ensembvle Phantasm, who play Ferrabosco (the Elder’s) three In Nomines, two fantasias and a pavan, alongside a viol consort arrangemnt of Byrd’s four-part Mass can outstay their welcome; much as I admire their performances of the music of the period, I want to hear the voices in the Byrd.

I’ve mentioned the two In Nomines. This was a peculiarly English phenomenon, in the form of variations on the Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini from the Preface to the Canon of the Mass, as set by John Taverner in his six-part Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas. Even if you know the Taverner original, from the fine recordings by The Tallis Scholars (Gimell CDGIM045 – Recording of the Month DL News 2013/15), Christ Church Cathedral (AV2123 – review) or The Sixteen (Hyperion CDH55052, mid-price, or CDS44401, 10 CDs super-budget price – Bargain of the Month), it’s usually difficult to hear the theme in the elaborate polyphonic writing, and Ferrabosco’s settings are no exception.

If you don’t try to pick out the cantus firmus, as I suspect will be the case for 99% of modern listeners, much of the purpose of the piece is lost. It is worth the effort; Ferrabosco varies the tune throughout the parts, but his In Nomines are less fanciful and more approachable than some of the later examples. Whatever you make of the instrumental versions, however, you should obtain one of the fine recordings of the Taverner.

My reservations about a straight 76 minutes of viol consort don’t apply to the quality of playing and recording on the new release; I’ve expressed the same reservations about lack of variety on other such collections. This is one of those occasions when I recommend streaming first if you can, from Naxos Music Library or the like. It’s not that I’m sitting on the fence, rather that there’s so much that’s subjective about reactions to recordings of the music of the past. Read Simon Thompson’s review of A German Christmas on Naxos (‘rather thin gruel’) alongside mine in Christmas Music Past and Present (‘tastefully understated [but] I enjoyed [it]’) and you would hardly think that we had been listening to the same album.

Brian Wilson

Fantasia No.2 à 6 (MB 81/30) [4:23]
Fantasia No.15 à 4 (MB 62/15) [2:00]
Pavan No.2 on Seven Notes à 5 (MB 81/7) [4:48]
Almaine No.10 à 5 (MB 81/24) [2:03]
Galliard for two viols in the first tuning [3:23]
Almain for two lyra viols in the first tuning [2:40]
Fantasia No.9 à 4 (MB 62/9) [3:18]
Fantasia No.13 à 4 (MB 62/13) [3:07]
In Nomine No.1 à 5 (MB 81/3) [3:01]
A Pavin for three viols in the second tuning [4:42]
Almain for one lyra viol [3:54]
Coranto for one lyra viol [1:46]
Fantasia No.4 à 6 (MB 81/32) [3:29]
Ut re mi fa sol la – La sol fa mi re ut à 5 (MB 81/2a & b) [7:38]
Fantasia à 4 (MB 62 App. / VdGS No.24) [2:13]
Fantasia No.6 à 6 (MB 81/34) [3:18]
A Fancie for three viols in the third tuning [2:25]
Fantasia No.11 à 4 (MB 62/11) [2:49]
In Nomine No.3: Through All Parts à 6 (MB 81/28) [4:54]
Prelude for one lyra viol [1:28]
Pavin for one lyra viol [5:12]
Fantasia on the Hexachord à 6 (MB 81/25) [3:47]

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