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  • Renewing 'the expressive traditions of early music' on viols
  • Lucy Robinson

The 21st century sees the market for early music saturated to a point where it is often no longer viable to offer straightforward recordings of early repertory. To make their mark artists must attract attention in other ways, and the degree of creative fantasy seems on the increase. The CDs reviewed here neatly capture this range, from the conventional to the downright eccentric.

As Roger North reports, John Jenkins (1592–1678) 'had a very great hand on the consort viol' and with this consort experience came a thorough understanding of the potential of weaving intricate counterpoint for six viols. His six-part consort music (12 Fantasies, two In Nomines and two Pavans) presents a substantial technical test to all six players, in which the frequently energetic, muscular themes are shared equally among the violists, presenting a lively challenge for the overall ensemble. Phantasm's ensemble on their new recording Jenkins: Six-part consorts (Avie AV 2009, rec 2005, 66') is faultless, and each work is beautifully conceived as a whole with wonderful musical intelligence and clarity. Take, for example, Jenkins' Fantasy no.5, which opens with an extended meditation on Dowland's Lacrimae verae until disturbed by a spirited dance played with splendidly earthy crispness; this gives way to an elegant Almain which is quickly interrupted by an unusual figure based on 3rds, aptly described in Laurence Dreyfus's liner notes as like entering 'a room crammed with tick-tocking clocks'. The composition concludes broadly, moving through some delicious passing modulations, notably from B major to G major—which Phantasm shapes most lovingly, before concluding with a plagal cadence in D. North hints how Jenkins embraced a wide spectrum of emotions in his own performance, playing with 'wonderful agility, and odd humours'; this is fittingly matched by Phantasm's professed enjoyment in 'taking risks in its search for renditions that renew the expressive traditions of early music'.

Paolo Pandolfo's Mr de Sainte Colombe: Pièces de viole (Glossa GCD 920408, rec 2005, 69') surveys 28 pieces from the Panmure and Tournus manuscripts (nearly 180 works). While those in the Tournus manuscript are all for solo viol, a few in the Panmure collection include an [End Page 146] additional bass part; four of these are played on this recording. In part taking this as a precedent, Pandolfo has added basses for 12 other pieces which appear in the manuscripts for solo viol. Explaining that 'we hold a deep conviction on the importance of bringing those notes back to life, of making them vibrate in the tense air of the beginning of the third millennium', Pandolfo feels that artistically 'this extraordinary music' in many instances connects better with the listener with an additional bass part (played in this CD by Thomas Boysen) concerned that 'absence of rhythmic and harmonic support would entail the risk of leaving many of its aspects in the dark'. Pandolfo works creatively to make the music communicate with today's listener. Thus the splendid C major Chaconne which concludes the CD is given a strong rhythmic impetus from an added guitar continuo, which opens the work with three reiterations of the bass. The manuscript source is used as a basis for a performance which includes much repetition of material (entirely proper for a Chaconne) and some hypnotic improvisation. It should be said immediately that Pandolfo's playing throughout the CD is exquisite (so too are the pictures on the sleeve). But listened to as a whole, the variety of movements is perhaps not as great as that found in the works of Marin Marais (1656–1728) a generation later.

Vittorio Ghielmi's Full of colour (Winter&Winter 910 119-2, rec 2005, 58') is presented in an extravagant orange CD case, which disappointingly does not explain the raison d'être behind the extraordinarily wide variety of genres performed. These range from a straight performance by Il Suonar Parlante of works such as Elway Bevin's Browning, through free interpretations of Giovanni de Macque (1551–1614), ensemble transformations of familiar works of the solo viol repertory (such as Forqueray's Jupiter metamorphosed into a tango—a...


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pp. 146-147
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2008
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