musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Musical Humors & Lamentations"

L'Art du Bois

rec: May 6 & 17, 2009, Freiburg-Güntherstal, Matthias-Claudius Kapelle
Et'cetera - KTC 1418 (© 2010) (59'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Cuperaree or Grays Inn; The Apes Dance at the Temple; Tarletons Jig; John BLOW (1649-1708): Sonata No. 3 in G; Francesco CORBETTA (1615-1681): Prélude; La Sarabande, Tombeau sur la mort de Madame d'Orléans; John DOWLAND (1563-1626): My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home; Jacob VAN EYCK (c1589-1657): Variations on When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly; Variations on Lachrimae Antiquae by John Dowland; Anthony HOLBORNE (1545-1602): Almain; Coranto The Wanton; Tobias HUME (1569-1645): Fain would I change this note; Touch me lightly; What greater griefe; Nicola MATTEIS (1674-1714): Divisions; Richard NICHOLSON (1563-1639): Jews Dance; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Dioclesian (Z 627) (Chaconne Two in one upon a ground); Three parts upon a ground (Z 731); Thomas ROBINSON (c1560-after 1609): Passamezzo Galyard; Christopher SIMPSON (1602/06-1669): Divisions for treble viol, bass viol and keyboard II; Divisions for treble viol, bass viol and keyboard III; Thomas SIMPSON (1582-1628): Recercar

Verena Fütterer, Margret Görner, recorder; Lena Hanisch, recorder, transverse flute; Judith Sartor, viola da gamba; Maria Ferré, lute, theorbo, guitar; Mirko Arnone, lute, theorbo, percussion

L'Art du Bois is a German ensemble founded in 2004. Between 2006 and 2009 they have been prize winners in several music competitions in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. They also made appearances in various festivals and concert series. Listening to this disc it is easy to understand why they have enjoyed such success so soon. Their playing is technically assured and lively; there is never a dull moment. That said, an ensemble with recorders always has to deal with a lack of repertoire. For that reason they often adapt music which was originally written for other instruments. That is also the case here. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

The problem with this disc is that the documentation is rather poor. There is no indication of the scoring of the various pieces in the programme nor of the scoring which the composer had in mind. I wasn't always able to identify the pieces or to find what the original scoring was. Because of that it is hard to establish in what way the ensemble has arranged the compositions they chose to record.

The programme begins with two pieces by Anthony Holborne. These belong to the category of consort music which was particularly popular in England in the decades around 1600. There is no objection to playing them on recorders, but I really don't understand why any percussion should be added as it is here. We then hear a piece by one of the lesser-known masters of the English renaissance: Thomas Robinson, who was a lute and cittern player. In 1603 he published a lute method, The schoole of musicke, from which Passamezzo Galyard is taken. It is played here with two lutes - is this the original scoring? The liner-notes don't tell us.

As this disc wants to give some idea about the versatility of English music in the 17th century Tobias Hume has to be included. As he was a gambist his music is dominated by this instrument. That makes a performance with recorders rather odd, and even more so the addition of percussion, as in Fain would I change this note. It is one of those pieces where the arrangement doesn't really work. Thomas Simpson is another little-known composer who seldom appears in concert programmes. His Recercar is played with recorders, viol and lute. One could ask why his music is included, as all his extant compositions date from the time he worked abroad, mainly in Germany.

That is even more the case with Jacob van Eyck, the blind Dutch recorder player and carillonneur, who never left his country and only composed music for recorder solo. Here again the scoring is rather unfortunate. The variations on Doen Daphne d'over schoone Maeght - here referred to with the English title When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly - are performed with recorders, viol, lute and percussion. That is a bit overdone for music which was conceived for just one recorder. His variations on Pavaen Lachrymae may be based on Dowland's Lachrymae antiquae, as the track-list says, that in itself is no reason to play them on the viola da gamba. Over the years I have heard various performances of Van Eyck's music on other instruments than the recorder, and they have seldom been convincing.

The masque dances come off well. They belong to a category of pieces which were written for the masque, a popular form of entertainment which included music and poetry. Here percussion would probably be most suitable, but is not used.

For the second half of the programme we move to the baroque era, with Christopher Simpson - not related to the before-mentioned Thomas - Henry Purcell, John Blow, Francesco Corbetta and Nicola Matteis. The latter two were foreigners and early immigrants whose exemple would be followed by many other composers from the continent from the late 17th century onward. Matteis surprised his audiences with his virtuosic play at the violin, and nearly all his music is written for his own instrument. Corbetta was a guitar player who worked at the court of Louis XIV before moving to England. La Sarabande is one of his guitar pieces, for some reasons played here with recorder, guitar and theorbo, with the viola da gamba playing pizzicato. The reasoning behind this is a mystery to me; the lamento character of this piece would come off better with just a guitar.

I couldn't identify the sonata by Blow. The work-list in New Grove mentions just one sonata in A. The Sonata in G is performed with recorder and transverse flute. It is very well executed, and so are the two pieces by Henry Purcell, which belong to the most famous compositions from his oeuvre.

As one may gather from this review I am in two minds about this disc. I have nothing but admiration for the playing of the members of L'Art du Bois, and I hope to hear more from them. But I am not that happy with some of the arrangements they have made, which seem to me partly unnecessary and partly musically unsatisfying. It is understandable that an ensemble with this line-up would look into the music of the English renaissance. There is certainly much to find for them to play without any need for arrangements. That said, if you like this kind of music and you are less fussy than me, this is the disc for you.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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L'Art du Bois

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