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"Mynstrelles with straunge sounds"

Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-sopranoa
Rose Consort of Viols

rec: Nov 26 - 28, 2014, Forde Abbey (Somerset)
Delphian Records - DCD34169 (© 2015) (67'20")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Alexander AGRICOLA (1445/46-1506): Cecus non iudicat de coloribus; Juan DE ANCHIETA (1462-1523): Con amores, la mi madrea; anon: And I were a maidena; Biblis; De tous biens plaine a 4; Fortuna desperata a 4; In te Domine sperabo; La quercia; La Spagna; Antoine BUSNOYS (c1430-1492) (attr): Fortune esperéea; William CORNYSH (?-1523): Fa la sol; Juan DEL ENCINA (1468-1529/30): Fata la partea; Triste Españaa; HAYNE van Ghizeghem (c1445-before 1497): De tous biens plainea; HENRY VIII (1491-1547): Helas madamea; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Missa La Spagna (Agnus Dei II); JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450-1521): Adieu mes amoursa; De tous biens plaine a 3; Fortuna desperata a 3; In te Domine speravia; Johannes MARTINI (c1430/40-1497): Des biens amors a 4; La martinella; Francisco DE PEÑALOSA (c1470-1528): Missa Ave Maria (Agnus Dei II/vita dulcedo)a; Juan PONCE (c1476-after 1520): La mi sola Laureolaa

John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks, viola da gamba

Very few music before 1600 was written specifically for an ensemble of instruments. Such ensembles or consorts usually played dance music or vocal pieces, if necessary adapted for the instruments at hand. This explains that there is no clear watershed between vocal and instrumental music in the renaissance. The programme performed by Clare Wilkinson and the Rose Consort of Viols bears witness to that.

The items are not ordered according to the region where they have been written. That makes sense: we don't always know where pieces were written and sometimes not even who the original composer was. Moreover, much of the repertoire was truly international and many pieces appear in sources across Europe. The title of this disc is taken from an account of 1515 from circles around the court of Henry VIII, the most famous and most notorious of all England's monarchs. It describes "vi mystrelles with straunge sounds as sagbuts, vyolles & outhers". Some years later a court inventory mentions four instruments "caulled Spanishe Vialles". John Bryan, in his liner-notes, suggests that this may refer to a consort of viols, possibly brought over by Catharine of Aragon when she married Henry's older brother Arthur; she later was to become Henry's first wife.

It is quite possible that some of the Spanish pieces in the programme were known in England, even if they are taken from a Spanish source, the Cancionero de Palacio. Two pieces are from the pen of Juan del Encina, one of the main Spanish composers of the renaissance. Triste España is by far his most famous song and was included in anthologies by early music ensembles in the early days of historical performance practice. A contemporary of his was Juan de Anchieta; Con amores, la mi madre is a lullaby.

Another important source is a manuscript known as Henry VIII's Book, a selection of well-known continental songs as well as English pieces, some by Henry VIII himself, compiled to instruct the royal children. Among the composers represented in this book are Alexander Agricola and Heinrich Isaac and also Hayne van Ghizeghem's rondeau De tous bien plaine. The four-part Fortuna desperata is just one of the many versions of this tune which circulated in manuscript across Europe. It is interesting in that it sheds light on a frequent practice at the time: the replacement of one of the voices by another. Josquin Desprez does the same in his arrangement: to the two upper parts of the 'original version' attributed to Antoine Busnoys Josquin adds a new bass part. Obviously this book also includes English music, such as the anonymous And I were a maiden and Fa la sol by William Cornysh. The latter is one of many solimisation pieces from the renaissance which are based on a sequence of notes.

A third source for this programme is a manuscript from Bologna, known as Bologna Q 18. It includes one of the most famous pieces of the renaissance, In te Domine speravi by Josquin. Most pieces in this manuscript have no text but the titles allow to take the text from other sources; that is the case, for instance, with Josquin's Adieu mes amours. This are the kind of pieces which can be performed in various scorings, vocally or instrumentally or in a mixture of voices and instruments. That is the way they are performed here: the upper part is sung, the others are played on viols. Strictly speaking one cannot call the songs on this disc consort songs; the latter, especially known from English composers of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, were largely specifically conceived as pieces for a voice and viols.

Clare Wilkinson and the Rose Consort of Viols are a winning combination. Only recently I reviewed an excellent disc with pieces by Byrd and Philips ("Adoramus te"), and the present disc is just as good. Clare Wilkinson has the perfect voice for this kind of repertoire. Her diction is immaculate, her voice is supple and flexible and she adds some tasteful ornamentation without ever exaggerating. She also makes use of historical pronunciation. The playing of the Rose Consort of Viols is of the same level. The ensemble is perfect and they shape the lines of the polyphony beautifully. Voice and viols blend wonderfully well.

This disc is a winner in every respect and a feast for any lover of renaissance music.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Clare Wilkinson
Rose Consort of Viols

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