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Lupo fantasia SIGCD716
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Thomas Lupo (1571-1627)
rec. 2018, St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Sherborne, UK

For a short time, from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth, music for viol consort was a favoured form of aristocratic recreation in England. Viols were made in matched sets, known as chests from the boxes which usually contained them. A chest would normally consist of two each of treble, tenor and bass viols. The music written for them might include dances, versions of the Taverner In nomine or, more commonly, fantasias. These pieces were all short, by modern standards – none of those on this disc is as long as four minutes – and they were written for the enjoyment both of the players and of their select audiences. The idiom, deriving from Italian madrigals, was often polyphonic and intricate, to give all players interesting lines to play, and the result was an early form of chamber music which only died out when viols were superseded by the more powerful violin family, and polyphonic music gave way to the baroque.

Thomas Lupo was one of the earlier exponents of the viol consort as well as being a violinist. He came from a musical family which was first brought to England by Henry VIII to enhance his court music. The Lupo family, like others which came over at this time were Sephardic Jews, probably from Portugal. Thomas himself joined the court violin consort at the age of sixteen and served until his death. He worked for Prince Henry and then for Prince Charles. He wrote a great deal of violin music and also sacred music which has not survived, as well as his compositions for viol consort which have. We have here nineteen of his fantasias and a pavan.

This is a delightful collection of pieces. They are very varied in their moods. Some are playful and fast moving, such as 2, 8, 10 and 14. Some are slow and melancholy, such as 5, 13 and 15, and some show sudden changes in mood such as 13 and 17. The scoring also varies, from three to six instruments, and even when Lupo scores for only thee instruments, they can be any combination of treble, tenor and bass. He can rejoice in a rich texture with only three instruments, as in 5, or be lighthearted with five or six instruments, as in 8, 14 and 18. Curiously, the richest sound he likes comes from five rather than six instruments, so that 3, for example, sounds positively Brahmsian.

Fretwork, who play here, are one of the two leading viol consorts of our times, the other being Phantasm. I tend to find Fretwork rather plainer in their music-making, and possibly closer to how these pieces would have been played at the time. Phantasm tend to be more nuanced, even perfumed, and closer to the style of more recent chamber music. Both are valid. Fretwork here play with evident enjoyment and the recording is good.

Although Lupo turns up fairly frequently on mixed programmes, this is only the second disc dedicated to him that I am aware of. The other is a 1996 disc by The English Fantasy on ASV Gaudeamus. That offers a rather similar programme but it has been long deleted so Fretwork currently have the field to themselves. Fans of viol consorts need no encouragement; others would find this a good place to start.

Stephen Barber

Previous review: David McDade

Fantasia 1 in 5 parts, VdGS 11 [3:17]
Fantasia 15 in 3 parts, VdGS 24 [2:01]
Fantasia 29 in 5 parts, VdGS 25 [2:54]
Fantasia 8 in 6 parts, VdGS 8 [4:03]
Fantasia 15 in 3 parts, VdGS 26 [3:39]
Fantasia 13 in 3 parts, VdGS 15 [2:50]
Fantasia 31 in 5 parts, VdGS 27 [2:55]
Fantasia 2 in 6 parts, VdGS 2 [3:45]
Fantasia 17 in 3 parts, VdGS 27 [2:40]
Fantasia 30 in 5 parts, VdGS 26 [3:33]
Fantasia 9 in 5 parts, VdGS 1 [3:25]
Pavan 28 in 3 parts, VdGS 3 [3:42]
Fantasia 10 in 5 parts, VdGS 3 [3:37]
Fantasia 2 in 5 parts, VdGS 12 [3:26]
Fantasia 12 in 3 parts, VdGS 14 [2:04]
Fantasia 8 in 3 parts, VdGS 10 [2:30]
Fantasia 35 in 5 parts, VdGS 33 [2:26]
Fantasia 10 in 6 parts, VdGS 10 [3:41]
Fantasia 5 in 6 parts, VdGS 5 [3:44]
Fantasia 27 in 5 parts, VdGS 23 [3:42]

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