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Alfonso FERRABOSCO I & II: "The Soule of Heaven - Pavans and Almaines by Alfonso Ferrabosco I & II"

B-Five Recorder Consorta; Sofie Vanden Eynde, lute (solob)

rec: August 10 - 14, 2020, Basse-Bodeux (B), Eglise Assomption de la Vierge
Coviello Classics - COV92108 (© 2021) (63'16")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Scores Ferrabosco II

Alfonso FERRABOSCO I (1543-1588): Allmaneb; Fantasia [No. 4]b; Galliard {No. 11]b; In nomine [No. 24]a; In nomine [No. 25]a; In nomine [No. 26b]a; Pavan [No. 9b] in c minorb; Pavan [No. 6] in f minorb; Preludiumb; Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (c1575-1628): Almaine No. 1; Almaine No. 2; Almaine No. 3; Almaine No. 4; Almaine No. 9; Almaine No. 10; In nomine No. 1; Pavan No. 1 On Four Notes; Pavan No. 2 On Seven Notes; Pavan No. 3 'Dovehouse'; Pavan No. 4; Pavan No. 5; Pavan No. 7 'Sharp Pavan'; Pavan No. 8

Markus Bartholomé, Katelijne Lanneau, Thomas List, Silja-Maaria Schütt, Mina Voet, recorder

English consort music of the 16th and 17th centuries is quite popular among ensembles. For consorts of viols or recorders this is the core of their repertoire. For some reason the music written by father and son Ferrabosco seldom figures on their programmes, and if it is played, it is mostly as part of an anthology, and their names are just some among many. Therefore it was very important that only recently two discs were released which were entirely devoted to the oeuvre of the younger of the two (Ferrabosco II). I ended my review thus: "Both should stimulate other performers to delve into the oeuvre of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Younger, who deserves to be better known." Shortly after having published that review, I received a message from the B-Five Recorder Consort that a disc with music of the two Ferraboscos was released and the question whether I would be interested in reviewing it. Obviously, I was. And that is why I am able to write a review of a disc which brings the two Ferraboscos together in one programme.

Alfonso the younger, also known as Ferrabosco II, may be little known, but his father has fared even worse in modern performance practice. He was from Bologna, where he was born into a family, whose members were in the service of the house of Bentivoglio which ruled Bologna in the 15th century. The first musician of the family was Domenico Maria (1513-1574), who was a singer and composer. The fact that he for some time was a singer in the papal chapel in Rome, where Palestrina was one of his colleagues, attests to his status. Alfonso I was his eldest son, who was also born in Bologna, before Domenico went to Rome. In the late 1550s married singers had to leave the papal chapel, and this was the end of Domenico's activities in Rome. The family seems to have moved to France. Alfonso and two of his brothers were taken under the patronage of the Cardinal of Lorraine, and performed as the trois Pharabosques italiens. By 1562 Alfonso was in England and entered the service of the court. He acted as a courtier at Elizabeth's court until 1578, but during that time moved frequently between England and Italy, and also visited France several times. This resulted in suspicions of his being active as a spy, either for Elizabeth or for the Catholic Church. In 1577 he was excluded from the privileged access to the queen's apartments, as he was suspected of having attended Mass at the residence of the French ambassador. He denied, but his position was such that he had no option but to leave England. He and his wife had to leave his son and his daughter in England. That son was also called Alfonso, who today is known with the adjective 'the Younger', in order to distinguish him from his father.

Alfonso II was born in Greenwich, where he lived for much of his life. He was Alfonso I's illegitimate son; his father married his mother about three years after his birth. Soon after the wedding, they left England, and Alfonso and his younger sister were left in the guardianship of Gomer van Awsterwyke, a member of the queen's flute consort. A request of Alfonso I that his children be brought to Italy was denied, and the two remained in their guardian's charge until his death in 1592. Until 1601 Alfonso was paid an annuity as musitian of the violles, but seems not to have played very often at the court. From 1604 onwards his ties to the court became closer, as he was teaching music to the young Prince Henry. He started to collaborate with the poet Ben Jonson resulting in a masque performed at the Stuart court in January 1605. He continued to compose vocal music for court masques. In 1609 two books with his music were published, the first including songs for voice with lute and viol, the second with pieces for the lyra viol. In 1624 Alfonso was listed at the head of a group of four Musicians for the Violls. In 1626 he was appointed composer of the musicke in ordinary to the king, as successor to John Coprario. Two years later he died. Three sons also became musicians, and two daughters married musicians.

Both Ferraboscos have left a large oeuvre, of which only very little is known. The oeuvre of Alfonso I is largely vocal; instrumental music takes a relatively small place in his output. Less than ten of his works are scored for viols; among them are three versions of the In nomine, which vary in character. We also get here his only pavan for viols. The other pieces from his pen are for lute: fantasias, pavans, galliards and a prelude.

Instrumental music plays a much more important role in the oeuvre of Alfonso II. In comparison with his father he composed few sacred music, but quite a number of songs for solo voice and partsongs. His contributions to the repertoire for the lyra viol has already been mentioned; Paolo Biordi's disc is essential for our knowledge of this part of his output. Some pieces for the lyra viol are also included on the disc of the Hathor Consort, which otherwise is largely devoted to his consort music. That takes a substantial part of his oeuvre, and includes more than ten almans, nine pavans, thirty fantasias and six In nomines. There can be little doubt that this oeuvre is first and foremost intended for a consort of viols. However, as the recorder was a particularly popular instrument, and the Bassano family, whose members were in the service of Henry VIII, had laid the foundation of the recorder consort in England, a performance of such works by an ensemble of recorders is entirely legitimate. The main question is whether it works, and in my experience not every piece of consort music works well on recorders. However, the pieces selected here certainly do. The almains are the most lighthearted pieces on this disc; they often remind me of the music of Anthony Holborne. The pavans are more serious stuff, and here we often hear that harmonic tension that is so much a feature of English renaissance polyphony (for instance the Dovehouse Pavan). These pavans as well as the In nomines by Alfonso I are testimonies of their command of counterpoint. Two of the highlights are the Pavan No 1, also known as Pavan on Four Notes and the Pavan No. 2, a Pavan on Seven Notes. The former has become especially known with a sacred text by Ben Jonson, "Heare me O God", turning the piece into a consort song.

Especially in such pieces it is important that the recorders blend well, and here they certainly do. I like the 'vocal' performances of the B-Five Recorder Consort. The players explore the (limited) dynamic possibilities of their instruments to the full. The almaines,, but also the In nomine No. 24, receive very lively performances. The programme has been put together in such a way that there is a maximum of variety between pieces of different character. In between Sofie Vanden Eynde demonstrates the quality of Alfonso I's lute pieces, which are beautifully played.

Given that so little of the oeuvre of the two Ferraboscos is available on disc, this production is of great importance, and I am happy that the musical result is so convincing and entertaining.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

B-Five Recorder Consort
Sofie Vanden Eynde

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