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"The Manchester Gamba Book (c.1660)"

Dietmar Berger, viola da gamba

rec: Jan 2 - 5, 2011, Cologne, St. Andreaskirche
Naxos - 8.572863-64 (2 CDs) ( 2012) (2.39'14")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

[The track-list includes the titles in their original spelling. The initials/names of the composers or arrangers are added between brackets as they appear in the track-list in the booklet. The Roman numerals refer to the tunings in the manuscript, followed by numbers indicating the sequential position of the piece within that tuning.]
A Coranto (G. Gerrarde) II-2; A Coranto (R. Sumarte) II-3; A paven (Joseph Sherlie) III-11; A Saraband (Wilm Kingslake) III-13; A Saraband (Wilm Younge) I-24; A thump (Thomas Martine) III-12; Almaine (John Jenkins) XI-1; An Almaine (Joseph Sherlie) III-7; Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-3; Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-5; Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-8; Coranto (Alfonso Ferrabosco) III-10; Coranto (G. Willis) III-14; Daphne (R.S.) I-6; Fortune (R.S.) I-3; Lachryme (R.S.) I-9; Malte Man (R. Sumarte) II-1; Monusiers Allman (R. Sumarte) I-7; Queen Maries Dumpe (R.S.) I-1; Paven (Gervise Gerrarde) III-15; Preludiu (R.S.) I-13; Preludiu (R.S.) I-15; Preludiu (Rich. Sumarte) I-25; Preludium (R.S.) I-14; Roben is to the greens-woode gon (R.S.) I-4; Salte pitts (R.S.) I-8; Saraband (John Jenkins) X-9; Saraband (Thomas Woodson) I-27; Solus cum Sola (R.S.) I-11; The Buildings (R.S.) I-10; The Kings Maske (R. Sumarte) II-4; The Nightengale (R.S.) I-12; Untitled (Anonymous) XVI-1; Untitled (Gervise Gerrarde) III-6; Untitled (John Jenkins) XIII-4; Untitled (Mr. Elliot, Oxon.) I-17; Untitled (Mr. Elliot, Oxon.) I-21; Untitled (R.S.) I-18; Untitled (R.S.) I-23; Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-16; Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-19; Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-20; Untitled (Stephen Goodall) I-22; Untitled (Willm Younge) I-26; What if a daye (?) I-2; Whoope doe me no harm (R.S.) I-5

The lyra viol is mostly associated with England. Although music for the lyra viol was written and played across Europe, it was more popular in England than anywhere else. This instrument is basically the same as the bass viol, and most music written for the lyra viol was also played on that instrument. There are some small differences between the lyra viol and the bass viol, though. In The Division-Violist of 1659 Christopher Simpson writes that the lyra viol has lighter strings and that the bridge is less rounded. The strings of the lyra viol are fitted more closely to the fingerboard than those of the consort bass.

However, the main difference lies in the various tunings which were used in its music. Nearly 60 different tunings have been identified; only nine of these seem not to have been used in England. Such tunings are indicated as, for instance, harpe way flat, octavo way or bagge-pipe way. As the main feature of the lyra viol is its tuning scholars generally speak not so much about music for lyra viol as music for bass viol played lyra way. There are some other noteworthy features of music for lyra viol. One of them is its tablature notation; one can see this in the pieces on this disc which can be downloaded here. Moreover, music for lyra viol includes chords and harmonic ornaments.

The popularity of lyra viol music is reflected by the fact that no less than 18 English collections of such music have been preserved. The Manchester Gamba Book is one of them, comprising 258 pieces in 22 different tunings. Some of the most famous composers of the 17th century wrote music for the lyra viol, such as John Jenkins and William Lawes; the former also appears in the selection on this disc. Another important composer of such music was Tobias Hume; his First Part of Ayres (1605) is the largest collection of music for lyra viol by a single composer.

The Manchester Gamba Book includes mostly pieces by composers who are only known from this source. They are also not included in New Grove; among these are Stephen Goodall, Joseph Sherlie and Richard Sumarte. The latter is almost surely behind the initials R.S. which appear frequently in this collection.

Ornaments are an important feature of music for the lyra viol. The interesting thing about this manuscript is that it includes a table of ornaments, called Table of Graces. It reveals that the ornaments used in this kind of music were French in origin. In his liner-notes, Paul Furnas, who also wrote a dissertation on this manuscript, writes: "The lute and viol ornament charts in seventeenth-century English manuscripts generally gave the name of an ornament and a graphic symbol for notating it, but neglected to indicate the actual notes of the ornament. (...) The Table of Graces in the Manchester Gamba Book is uniquely valuable in that it includes not just the names and signs for each ornament, but also tablature notation indicating specifically how to play it". He suggests Gervise Gerrarde could have been the author of the table of ornaments, and his Paven (III-15) could be considered a musical illustration of this table.

The German gambist Dietmar Berger has recorded the complete pieces from this manuscript which make use of the first and second tunings, and 11 of the 15 pieces for the third tuning. Moreover he plays four pieces in other tunings, one each in the 10th, 11th, 13th and 16th. We find a number of then common dances, such as coranto, saraband and almain, some pieces without a title, as well as variations on tunes which were very popular at the time and also used in music for keyboard and lute. Examples in the present programme are Daphne (I-6), Lachryme (I-9) and The Nightengale (I-12). A feature of playing lyra way was the plucking of the strings. It can be heard here only in a couple of pieces, for instance A thump (III-12).

The recording has a bit of an awkward start: I found Queen Maries Dumpe a little stiff and hesitant. That impression soon disappeared, though, and what follows is an impressive display of technical prowess and stylistic understanding of the musical material. Two discs of about 80 minutes each of music for solo gamba may seem too much of a good thing. I wouldn't recommend the average lover of early music to listen to these discs at a stretch, although I didn't find it very hard to do so. If you choose a number of pieces you will be richly rewarded and soon return to this set for more. If you are especially interested in the viola da gamba, you should definitely not miss this production. I very much hope that more pieces from this rich source will be recorded in the near future.

There is no lack of recordings with music for lyra viol. A search at the internet will result in various discs with mostly English repertoire. I would like to single out a disc with music from another important source, A Booke of Lessons for the Lyro=Viole, recorded by Johanna Valencia.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

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