musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music for recorder consort

[I] "I love unloved - Von Nymphen, Musen und dem Klagelied der Liebe" (of nymphs, muses and Love's Plaint)
Elb' an Flutes
rec: Oct 2015, Wellingsbüttel (D), Lutherkirche
Ambitus - amb 96 986 (70'44")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: I love unloved; When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly; Giovanni Maria ARTUSI (c1540-1613): Tra Ninfe [8]; Vaghe Ninfe [8]; Michael EAST (1580-1648): Euterpe [12]; Tersichore [12]; Thaleia [12]; Giles FARNABY (1560-1640): Daphne on the rainbow [9]; George KIRBYE (1565-1634): Sleep now my muse [6]; Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677): Suite No. 1 in c minor (fantazie; fantazie; jigg) [13]; Luca MARENZIO (1553/54-1599): Apollo, s'ancor vive [3]; Zefiro torna [3]; Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602): Flora wilt thou torment me? [5]; Sweet Nimphe come [5]; Diego ORTIZ (c1510/25-1570): Doulce memoire [2]; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Fantasia in G (Z 742); The Fairy Queen (Z 629) (entry dance; hornpipe; air; One charming night; rondeau; Next winter comes slowly; jig; chaconne; hornpipe); Pierre SANDRIN (c1490-1561): Doulce memoire [1]; Marcello TOSONE (?-c1620): Movi il tuo plettro Apollo [4]; Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623): Three virgin Nymphs [7]; John WILBYE (1574-1638): Ay me, can every rumour [10]; When Cloris heard [11]

Sources: [1] Pierre Sandrin, Le second livre des chansons a quatre parties, 1544; [2] Diego Ortiz, Trattado de glosas sobre clausulas y otros generos de puntos en la musica de violones, 1553; [3] Luca Marenzio, Madrigali ... libro primo, 1585; [4] Marcello Tosone, Il primo libro de madrigali a 4 voci, 1590; [5] Thomas Morley, The First Booke of Canzonets to Two Voyces, 1595; [6] George Kirbye, The First Set of English Madrigalls to 4, 5 and 6 Voyces, 1597; [7] Thomas Weelkes, Madrigals to 3. 4. 5. & 6. Voyces, 1597; [8] Giovanni Maria Artusi, Canzonette a 4 voci, libro primo, 1598; [9] Giles Farnaby, Canzonets to Fowre Voyces with a Song of Eight Parts, 1598; John Wilbye, [10] The First Set of English Madrigals to 3, 4, 5 and 6 Voices, 1598; [11] The Second Set of Madrigales for 3, 4, 5 and 6 Voices, 1609; [12] Michael East, The Seventh Set of Bookes, wherein are Duos for Two Base Viols ... also Fancies of 3. Parts for Two Treble Viols, and a Base Violl, 1638; [13] Matthew Locke, The Flat Consort, 1661

Nóra Kiszty, Anabel Röser, recorder; Maria Pallasch, recorder; viola da gamba; Barbara Messmer, viola da gamba

[II] "Cosmography of Polyphony - A Journey through Renaissance Music with 12 Recorders"
The Royal Wind Music
rec: July 28 - 31, 2016, Ransdorp (NL), NH Kerk
Pan Classics - PC 10377 (© 2017) (57'47")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein a 4 (BWV 641) [8]; Antoine BRUMEL (c1470-1536): Tanndernac a 3; Hernando DE CABEZÓN (1541-1602): Dulce Memoriae a 4 [4]; Juan DEL ENCINA (1468-1530): Oy comamos y bebamos; Alfonso FERRABOSCO I (c1543-1588): [Fantasia] Di sei bassi a 6; Carlo GESUALDO da Venosa (1561-1613): O dolorosa gioia a 5 [7]; Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560): Mille regretz de vous abandonner a 6; Anthony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602): As it fell on a holie Eve a 5 [5]; Almain: The Choyse a 5 [5]; Galliard: Ecce quam bonum a 5 [5]; Alonso LOBO (1555-1617): Versa est in luctum a 6 [6]; Johannes OCKEGHEM (c1410-1497) (attr): Malor me bat a 3 [1]; Osbert PARSLEY (1511-1585): Spes nostra a 5; Pierre PHALÈSE (c1505/10-c1573/76) (ed): Bransle a 4 [3]; Bransle gay a 4 [3]; Gaillarde: Puis que vivre en servitude a 4 [2]; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Mein junges Leben hat ein End a 4 (SwWV 324); Praeludium pedaliter a 4 (SwWV 265b); Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): Beata viscera Mariae virginis a 6 [2]

Sources: [1] Ottaviano Petrucci, ed., Harmonice musices odhecaton, 1501; [2] Adrian Willaert, Adriani Willaert musicorum sex vocum, liber primus, 1542; [3] Pierre Phalèse, ed., Liber primus leviorum carminum: Premier livre de danseries, 1571; [4] Antonio de Cabezón, Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela, 1578; [5] Anthony Holborne, Pavans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs both Grave, and Light, in Five Parts, for Viols, Violins, or Other Musicall Winde Instruments, 1599; [6] Alonso Lobo, Liber primus missarum, 1602; [7] Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, Madrigali libro quinto, 1611; [8] Johann Sebastian Bach, Orgel-Büchlein, 1713/15

Petri Arvo, Verena Barie, Stephanie Brandt, Francesca Clements, Eva Gemeinhardt, Arwieke Glas, Hester Groenleer, Dianne Heijstee, Dorottya Kis, Yi-Chang Liang, Marco Magalhães, María Martínez Ayerza, Filipa Margarida Pereira, Anna Stegmann, recorder

[III] Johann Sebastian BACH: "the art of fugue"
Quinta Essentia Quarteto
rec: Feb / March 2016
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 230 (© 2017) (81'41")
Liner-notes: E/D/Por
Cover, track-list & booklet

Gustavo de Francisco, Renata Pereira, Felipe Araújo, Fernanda de Castro, recorder

The recorder is one of the most popular instruments, especially in the world of early music. As in the course of time not that much solo music for recorder has been written, recorder players often turn to music for an instrumental ensemble, which can be played by a consort of recorders of different pitch. In particular during the 16th and 17th centuries large amounts of such music were written. Several of these ensembles also like to play contemporary music, and it seems that composers of today are interested in writing for a consort of recorders. There is a third category: music for different instruments, or one different instrument, arranged for recorder consort. One of the composers whose oeuvre offers opportunities for such arrangements is Johann Sebastian Bach, for instance his keyboard music, in which counterpoint plays such an important role. Two of the categories I mentioned are represented in the three discs under review here. In their very own way they all offer something special.

The ensemble Elb' an Flutes is a bit different from most recorder consorts in that it consists of only three players. Although during the 16th century a three-part scoring was not uncommon, the repertoire for just three instruments is not that large. This explains why in some of the pieces the recorders are joined by one or two viols (in the latter case the number of recorders is reduced to two, as Maria Pallasch plays both instruments). Historically speaking there seems to be no objection against such a line-up: in England in the 16th century instrumental music could be played by a 'broken consort', or - probably historically more correct - a 'mixed consort'. Such a consort comprised instruments from different families. However, it seems unlikely that such instruments were put together at random. Warwick Edwards, in the article 'Consort' in New Grove, writes: "The classic grouping together of unlike instruments in England at the time consisted of the six instruments which, according to an anonymous chronicler (The Honourable Entertainement ... at Elvetham, London, 1591), entertained the queen at the Earl of Hertford's Hampshire estate of Elvetham: 'After this speech, the Fairy Quene and her maides daunced about the garland, singing a song of sixe partes, with the musicke of an exquisite consort, wherein was the Lute, Bandora, Base-Violl, Citterne, Treble-violl, and Flute'." The 'Flute' here refers to the recorder, and from this statement we may conclude that a consort of three recorders and two viole da gamba has probably little foundation in history.

Whether that is a reason to avoid a line-up as in this recording by Elb' an Flutes is a different matter. It is probably impossible to completely exclude the possibility that ensemble music was played this way. What matters most is whether it sounds well. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Some pieces are in three parts; they are played by the recorders, and these are the most satisfying parts of this disc. Among them are the pieces by Michael East from The Seventh Set of Bookes, which includes Fancies for two treble viols and a bass viol. In his time composers also wrote madrigals for three to six voices. In pieces for four voices a viola da gamba is needed. Unfortunately the booklet does not specify the instruments. It seems that the recorders are of the renaissance type, and that could be the reason I am not very satisfied with the performances of pieces by Purcell. The recorders are dynamically too limited for music which is of a different character. That goes for the suite of instrumental movements from The Fairy Queen, but also for the Fantazie which opens the programme. It is one of the fantasias in four parts, which Purcell scored for viole da gamba. I can't remember ever having heard them on recorders, and having listened to this performance I understand why they are avoided. It is not so easy to put a finger on it, but somehow the recorders are not fit for this piece. Maybe it is just that it requires a more dynamically differentiated interpretation, something renaissance recorders can't bring. In some pieces in which the recorders are joined by viols that could be another reason the performances left me unsatisfied: the difference in dynamical capabilities between the recorders and the viols. The playing of the artists is fine, but the mixture of these two types of instruments has not always convinced me, and some of the repertoire should have been avoided.

From a historical point of view the next disc may even be more questionable as far as the line-up is concerned. The Royal Wind Music, founded by Paul Leenhouts in 1997, consists of fourteen recorder players, and it seems unlikely that anyone in the 16th century - the time from which nearly all the music is taken - has ever seen such a large ensemble of instruments, let alone instruments of one family. It's true, no piece is performed by the whole ensemble, but most of them are played by twelve or thirteen recorders. Only in a few items the line-up is much more modest, such as in Dulce Memoriae by Hernando de Cabezón, which is played with four recorders, and in Brumel's Tanndernac, where only three recorders are involved.

The repertoire comprises three genres: original music for an ensemble of instruments, vocal polyphony and arrangements of keyboard works. The piece by Hernando de Cabezón is an example of the latter, and so are the two works by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Organ works are particularly well suited for a performance by a recorder consort, because the organ is a wind instrument, like the recorder, and until the mid-18th century organ works were dominated by counterpoint. Johann Sebastian Bach was the last great representative of instrumental polyphony, and his organ works often do very well on recorders. That is also the case with the chorale Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein from his Orgelbüchlein. This is the latest piece in the programme and the only foray into the baroque period.

Music specifically conceived for instruments was rare in the renaissance, until the consort of instruments made its appearance in the early 16th century. Such a consort usually comprised instruments of the same family in different pitches, such as viols, recorders or transverse flutes. In England consort music developed into a separate and highly popular genre. However, in this programme the common repertoire for consort has been avoided almost completely. The exceptions are the three pieces by Anthony Holborne. Interestingly, his Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other Aeirs, published in 1599, are mostly performed with a mixed consort. Playing them with a consort of recorders, as is the case here, offers a different perspective on this repertoire.

Alfonso Ferrabosco can also be considered English, although he was born and died in Italy. Between 1562 and 1578 he worked as a courtier under Elizabeth I and in this time he contributed to the genre of consort music. His Fantasia di sei bassi is a remarable piece, firstly because of its six parts - although that was not unique - but even more because all the parts are for low instruments. It is played here with one instrument per part, except the lowest part, which is performed with two recorders. The instruments are great bass, contrabass and sub-contrabass.

The pieces from collections of dances, put together and published by Pierre Phalèse, can be performed with almost any combination of instruments. Gaillardes and bransles were among the most popular dances of the time. Whether all the pieces ranked among instrumental music in the liner-notes were originally conceived as instrumental music, is hard to say. Juan del Encina's Oy comamos y bebamos is a villancico, which is the name for a secular or sacred song, and Gombert's Mille regretz was originally a chanson. However, it is quite possible that some of these vocal pieces have come down to us without a text. In the case of Ockeghem's Malor me bat we have to do with a textless arrangement, included by the Venetian publisher Petrucci in his famous collection Odhecaton, the first book of polyphonic music ever to be printed using movable type.

The remaining part of the programme consists of vocal music. This was a major part of the repertoire of instrumentalists, and performances as offered here are in line with performance practice at the time. An interpretation on recorders works best in the motets. The pieces by Willaert, Parsley and Lobo come off very nicely. I am less impressed by Gesualdo's madrigal O dolorosa gioia. One of its features is a very close connection between music and text. As a result I feel that too much is lost here, and that a performance with recorders is rather unnatural and artificial.

The playing is outstanding: the blending of the various recorders is perfect, and I like the rather relaxed way of playing and the beautiful sound this ensemble produces. It is less straightforward and also dynamically more flexible than we hear from Elb' an Flutes.

I have already mentioned Bach and his organ music. The Royal Wind Music plays one of his organ chorales, and the third disc is entirely devoted to one of his most famous compositions, Die Kunst der Fuge. Even so, it is a rather mysterious piece that raises various questions which are answered differently and may never be answered definitely. One of them is for which instrument - or combination of instruments - Bach conceived this work. Gustav Leonhardt argued that it was intended for the harpsichord, and that view has not been seriously challenged. Even so, Bach did not indicate the instrument he had in mind, and that allows for other solutions. Whereas the English and French suites are very much harpsichord works, the Kunst der Fuge does well on the organ, and that suggests that a performance with a consort of viols or recorders may work equally well. Various recordings of this work by a consort of viols are available (such as Les Voix Humaines and Fretwork) and a performance on recorders comes, for instance, from the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet (Channel Classics, 1999).

Renate Pereira, in her liner-notes to the disc of the Quinta Essentia Quarteto, writes: "Our principal challenges were the range of voices, the instrumental timbres, and the choice of either modern or Baroque instrumentation. the variety and range of instruments in the recorder family allowed us to create a faithful adaptation of the score, and the variation in timbres is of obvious benefit for an extensive and complex repertoire in D minor of almost 90 minutes in length." One of the problems signalled in the liner-notes, was to find a great bass, and a luthier who was able and willing to build one. This was quite a challenge, and in the end the ensemble found a luthier in Japan, who made the instrument they needed. I find this rather odd; one wonders whether recorder players are informed about what their colleagues are doing. The Royal Wind Music uses a great bass since many years, and it seems unlikely that the luthier who made their great bass would not have been willing to make one for Quintaessentia.

Overall this is a nice performance. The articulation is good and there is enough dynamic shading. Only the recorders in higher pitches are sometimes a bit too straightforward and could have been a bit more flexible in sound and dynamics. Thanks to the playing and the recording there is just enough transparency to allow the listener to follow the various parts. I have not heard any other recorder version recently, so I can't compare this performance with others, but I liked what I heard, and both recorder aficionados and Bach lovers should consider this version of one of Bach's masterpieces.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Elb' an Flutes
Quinta Essentia Quarteto
The Royal Wind Music

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