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William YOUNG (c1610 - 1662): "An Englishman Abroad - Works for Viola da Gamba"

Hamburger Ratsmusik
Dir: Simone Eckert

rec: March 16 - 19, 2009, Berlin-Lichterfelde, Siemens-Villa
CPO - 777 569-2 (© 2012) (72'44")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Scores Sonate 1653

Almain for lyra viol; Divisions on a Ground for viola da gamba and bc in g minor; Fantazie of 3 Parts for 3 viole da gamba No. 5 in c minor; Fantazie of 3 Parts for 3 viole da gamba No. 7 in d minor; Prelude for lyra-viol; Sonata for 2 viole da gamba in d minor; Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in C; Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in D; Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in d minor; Sonata III for 2 violins and bc in g minor; Sonata VIII for 2 violins and bc in G; Sonata IX for 2 violins and bc in F; Suite for viola da gamba in d minor; Suite for 2 viole da gamba in g minor

Sources: [1] Sonate ŕ 3.4.5. con alcune allemand, correnti e balletti ŕ 3, 1653

Georg Muffat (1653-1704) is often considered the first real 'European' composer in history as he combined French, Italian and German/Austrian elements in his compositions. But it is probably William Young who should be given the honour of being the first 'European' composer as his oeuvre shows elements of the English, the Italian and the German/Austrian styles. The present disc includes examples of these various elements.

Very little is known about Young. We don't know when and where he was born and nothing is known about his formative years. It is presumed that he had already established himself as a composer before he left England. The reason for his departure could have been religious. An English writer of the late 17th century states that he was "bred in Rome", which means that he was raised as a Catholic. Since the opportunities for Catholics were very limited it is not surprising that he looked oversees for employment as English composers of previous generations had done (Peter Philips, John Bull). From around the middle of the century until his death Young worked at the court of Innsbruck in the service of Archduke Ferdinand Karl. How exactly he came there is unknown. His appointment as a member of the court chapel is remarkable, as almost all its members were Italians. Their presence had a strong influence on Young's development as a composer. His acquaintance with Italian music also came from a journey of his employer whom he accompanied during visits to Parma, Modena, Mantua and Florence. When King Charles II returned to England after the Restoration Young also travelled back to his native country, which could be a further indication that he shared the King's Catholic faith. It is not known whether he looked for a job. If that was the case it was to no avail as he soon returned to Innsbruck, where he died two years later.

During his years in Innsbruck Young had gained a reputation which reached far beyond the Austrian region. The Swedish queen Christina, on her way to Rome after her conversion to Catholicism, stayed some time in Innsbruck, and was highly impressed by Young's playing. The French author Jean Rousseau ranked Young among the leading gambists of Europe in his Traité de la Viole (1687). The large number of copies of his compositions bear witness to his reputation.

The subtitle of this disc is not correct: the programme comprises much more than just music for viola da gamba. Hamburger Ratsmusik also play sonatas with one or two violins. The three sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and bc on this disc are all the pieces for this scoring from Young's pen which have come down to us. These bear witness to the influence of German music. The scoring was very common in Germany, and the three sonatas are not that different from the sonatas for the same scoring by, for instance, Buxtehude. Three sonatas are scored for two violins and bc, all from the only collection of music by Young which was printed in his lifetime. These sonatas in particular bear witness to the influence of the Italian style.

The two Fantazies are for three viols which are treated on an equal footing. They are rooted in the English consort music and are stylistically close to Matthew Locke. Here the upper part is played at the violin. This is a legitimate option as consort music from around 1650 left it to the performers to choose either the violin or the treble viol. A Prelude and an Almain are for lyra-viol, or rather the viol 'played the lyra way'. This was by far not an exclusively English style of playing, but it was more widespread there than anywhere else.

Lastly two suites are played. The Suite in g minor is for two gambas and begins with a long pavan, followed by allemande, air, sarabande and courante. The Suite in d minor for gamba solo begins with a prelude, followed by allemande, sarabande and a courante with variation. The French titles as such are not an indication of a specific French influence. Such suites were written in many countries in Europe, including England and Germany. The gravitas of these suites shows their basically German touch.

Hamburger Ratsmusik have made a large number of recordings of especially lesser-known compositions for viola da gamba, often in ensemble with other instruments. This disc is another jewel in their crown. As far as I know this is the first disc entirely devoted to the work of William Young (*). That was long overdue, considering the quality and versatility of the oeuvre. Fortunately the performances are outstanding. The contrasts within the sonatas are worked out perfectly. The gambists produce a fine and passionate sound, with perfect ensemble. The violin in the pieces for three viols is played with the right amount of restraint: these are no baroque pieces, and therefore don't call for strong dynamic shading.

The programme has been put together in such a way that there is a maximum of variety. The quality of Young's music guarantees much enjoyment anyway. This disc is a happy marriage of fine music, sensitive playing and informative liner-notes which help the listener to put the music into its perspective. In short, this is an important and exemplary production.

(*) Mr Jaakko Tuohiniemi (Helsinki) has informed me that one other disc is available which is entirely devoted to William Young, with recordings by London Baroque and Musica antiqua Köln, dating from 1979 to 1983. This is a compilation of various radio recordings which are not available on any other disc. It is therefore worthwhile to make mention of it, also because of the quality of the ensembles. The disc is available here.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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