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Anthony POOLE (c1629 - 1692): "Sonata, Divisions & Dances"

Transports Publics
Dir: Thomas Baeté

rec: July 30 - August 1, 2014, Antwerp, AMUZ
Musica Ficta - MF8023 (© 2015) (67'37")
Liner-notes: E/F/N
Cover, track-list & booklet

A Division upon a Ground by Mr Anthony Poole (PW28); A Second Division upon a Ground by Mr Anthony Poole (PW37); Chacone (PW10); Division Ayr I (PW101); Division Ayr III (PW103); Division Ayr IV (PW104); Division Ayr V (PW105); Division Ayr VI (PW106); Division to a Ground (PW27); Fantasia (PW200); Sonata a 3 (PW100); St Justinas (PW7a); Suite in e minor (PW 29-33)

Annelies Decock, violin; Thomas Baeté, Freek Borstlap, viola da gamba; Gesina Liedmeier, violone; Elisabeth Seitz, hammered dulcimer; Jan Van Outryve, archlute, cittern; Korneel Bernolet, virginals

If you take a look at the article on Anthony Poole in New Grove you will find just two paragraphs with nine lines in total. The bibliography includes only two titles, none of which deals specifically with this 17th-century English composer. Fortunately Thomas Baeté, in his liner-notes, can rely heavily on an unpublished PhD thesis by Patxi del Amo, Anthony Poole (c.1629-1692), the Viol and English Catholics (University of Leeds, 2011), which greatly extends our knowledge of the composer.

The title already indicates that Poole was a Catholic and this was likely the main reason that he left England at the age of 12. That was in August 1641; he travelled to Saint-Omer in the southern Netherlands where he became a pupil at the English Jesuit College. Here he spent the next five years of his life being educated in the humanities. Consort music played a special role; according to the Constitutiones of 1601 the pupils should be properly instructed in this kind of music. However, as the college was at the crossroads of various styles it seems likely that Poole also became acquainted with what was going on at the continental music scene.

In 1646 Poole arrived in Rome where he became a student at the English College. Here he had the chance to experience performances of music by some of the main masters of the time, such as Carissimi and the Mazzocchi brothers. Girolamo Frescobaldi, who had died in 1643, was still an influential force in the realm of keyboard music. The college was known for its "ensemble of music for viols in which the English masters excel".

Unfortunately even Del Amo has not been able to find any information about Poole's activities in Rome. Two years after his arrival he was released from his religious vows and left the College. He also disappeared from the registers of the Jesuit Order. In 1658 he appears at Watten, a village around six miles from Saint-Omer. He had entered the service of the English Jesuit College and was responsible for the performance and teaching of instrumental music. According to a document he was not only an excellent musician, but "gifted in many other areas, if he were not so reserved". It seems that he suffered increasingly from mental problems, which a document of 1678 describes as phlegmatism mixed with melancholy. From 1679 until his death he worked at the Jesuit College in Liège as director of conscience and counsellor, but in the early 1680s he was already diagnosed with "mental weakness".

The present disc offers a cross-section of his works. None of them has been printed, except the two Divisions upon a Ground Basse by Mr Anthony Poole, which were included in the second edition of The Division Violin, edited and published by John Playford in 1685. The other pieces have been preserved in various libraries in Brussels, Paris, Oxford and at Durham Cathedral. Assuming that the programme is representative we have to conclude that most of Poole's compositions are based on a basso ostinato. That is the case with the divisions, but also with the second piece in the programme, with the title of St Justinas, which is not explained in the booklet. On the internet I found a St Justina of Antioch, but whether the title refers to her and if so, why Poole has chosen this title remains a mystery.

The various styles from across Europe are represented. Several pieces, such as the Sonata a 3 which opens the programme, have a violin part, which refers to Italian influence. On the other hand, the Suite in e minor, which comprises a prelude, an aria, a courante, a saraband and an alman, could well be a token of French influence, according to Baeté. However, the titles are partly English and in one source the alman is missing. It seems debatable whether these dances were really meant as a suite.

Several pieces have been arranged. The Division Ayr IV is performed here on the virginals, the Chacone has come down to us in two versions, one for violin, another for viol. "[We] have therefore taken the liberty of arranging this piece for full ensemble". There is nothing wrong with arranging pieces for another scoring. Composers often did so themselves and it was pretty common to adapt a piece to the instruments available. However, if you want to give a picture of the oeuvre of a composer who is virtually unknown, the original scoring has to be preferred. Moreover, there is no indication that Poole played the virginals; his output is confined to consort music. In several pieces the line-up includes a hammered dulcimer; the Second Division upon a Ground Basse by Mr Anthony Poole is even played as a duet of this instrument and the viginals. Its inclusion is justified with a reference to a list of instruments played at the College of Saint-Omer, called a "psal-mallet" which the performers have interpreted as referring to a "sort of psaltery of hammered dulcimer (a "mallet" here being a small wooden hammer)". They may be right and one cannot argue against its use as it was present at the College. On the other hand, the very fact that it was played at the College does not imply that it was also used in Poole's music.

These issues take nothing away from my appreciation of this disc. First of all, it is great that we have - for the first time - a disc which is entirely devoted to Poole's oeuvre. Apparently that is quite large if we have to go by the PW numbering - which, again, is not explained in the booklet. Let's hope more musicians will be inspired by Del Amo's thesis - which should be published - and explore the oeuvre of this little-known master. He deserves it: the pieces on this disc are very fine and I have really enjoyed listening to them. That is also due to the excellent performances by Transports Publics. Listen to the Division to a Ground (PW27) - the most virtuosic piece in the programme - and you get a good idea of what to expect.

Lovers of consort music shouldn't hesitate to add this disc to their collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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