Monday 26 October 2015

Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds

Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds
Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds: The Earliest Consort Music for Viols; Clare Wilkinson, Rose Consort of Viols; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 19 2015
Star rating: 4.0

The very earliest surviving music for viol consort performed on a set of reconstructed 16th century viols

The consort of viols seems to have developed around the turn of the 15th century, in the years before and after 1500. This new disc on Delphian presents music from some of the earliest manuscripts surviving with the Rose Consort of Viols (John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks) playing a set of modern instruments reconstructing those earliest of viols and joined by mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson. The music ranges from the earliest Italian manuscript, to the Spanish court and eventually to England. Many pieces are anonymous, but composers include Josquin des Prez, Francisco de Penalosa, Alexander Agricola, Juan del Encina, Johannes Martini, Joan Ponce, William Cornysh, Juan de Ancieta, Henricus Isaac and Henry VIII.

Rose Consort of Viols (John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks)
Rose Consort of Viols (John Bryan,
Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks)
Early viol consorts seem to have developed at the court of Ferrara, involving members of the ruling d'Este family. The court at Ferrara was always rather advanced musically, later in the 1500's the Concerto delle donne, the consort of virtuosic singing ladies would come to the fore there. These early viols have not survived, but we have a painting of some by Lorenzo Costa for an altarpiece in Bologna. Costa was in fact Ferrara trained and worked for Isabella d'Este. For this disc, Roger Rose and students on the early music instrument-building course at West Dean have reconstructed a viol consort.

One of the earliest surviving manuscripts was written in Bologna just before 1506, probably for the ruling family which had links to Ferrara. But music was also transmitted in print, and from the 1500's the editions of Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice enabled other courts to experiment with this music. Most of the works in the Bologna manuscript have song titles, but have no words attached and so some of them on this disc have had the correct text added with Clare Wilkinson singing.

Music in use at the Spanish court is preserved in a manuscript known as the Cancionero de Palacio and this inevitably leads to speculation about how and when this type of music come to England. Did Catherine of Aragon, who was known to be very musical, bring a consort with her? We don't know, but by the time the so-called Henry VIII book came to be compiled this music, was current with textless songs similar to those in the Bologna manuscript as well as music by Agricola and Isaac.

The repertoire was initially just song based, but composer tried to expand the pieces much in the way the rondel form was used in vocal music. On this disc there are pieces like Agricola's Cecus non iudicat de coloribus which expand the short pieces into something far more complex.

Many of the pieces on this disc are indeed short, and often quite folk-ish in sound. The overall sense is of lyric melancholy, perhaps because the viols do make rather a melancholy sound. Juan del Encina's Triste espana, possibly a lament for the death of Prince Juan in 1497, is one of the finest of the hauntingly elegiac pieces. Whilst songs like the anonymous Fortuna desperata have clear links to the French chansons. The accompaniments are not homophonic and you sense composers using polyphonic vocal music as a model, so that one part sometimes shadows the voice and sometimes there is a strong counter-melody in the tenor. The livelier pieces, like Josquin's Fortuna desperata use the viols' superb articulation to surround a quite lyrical vocal line with a lively accompaniment. Some of the later items on the disc are in fact positively lively, such as William Cornysh's Fa la sol which uses the example of Agricola and others to create a substantial piece. We have to imagine Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII sitting listening to this, or perhaps joining in or even dancing!

Clare Wilkinson makes a fabulous sound, clear, even and bright, forming a lovely contrast with the viols. But I had to scurry back to the disc's booklet as her words are largely rather occluded. The Rose Consort of Viols make the music seem as fresh as it must have to those 15th and 16th century listeners.

This is perhaps a slightly bitty disc, with many of the items rather short. Though it works well at one sitting, it might be better dipped into. But it sheds an intriguing light on the early development of this fascinating musical genre.

Anonymous - And I war a maydyn
Anonymous - De tous biens plaine a 4
Anonymous - Fortuna desperata
Henry VIII (1491-1547) - Helas Madam
Hayne van Ghizeghem (1445-1497)- De tu biens plaene
Josquin Desprez (1450-1521) - De tous biens playne
Antoine Busnois (1430-1492) - Fortune Esperee
Josquin Desprez - Missa, 'Fortuna Desperata'
Francisco de Penalosa (1470-1528) Vita dulcedo/Agnus Dei II
Alexander Agricola (1445/6-1506) - Cecus non judicat de coloribus
Juan del Encina (1468-1529/30) - Triste España sin ventura!
Johannes Martini (1430/40-1497) - Des biens amors a 4
Johannes Martini - La martinella
Josquin Desprez - In te Domine speravi, per trovar pietà
Anonymous - In te Domine sperabo
Anonymous - La quercia
Anonymous - Biblis
Juan del Encina - Fata la parte
Anonymous - La Spagna
Juan Ponce (1476-1520) - La mi sola Laureola
William Cornysh (d1523) - Fa la sol a 3
Juan de Anchieta (1462-1523) - Con amores, la mi madre
Heinrich Isaac - Agnus Dei II
Josquin Desprez - Adieu mes amours
Clare Wilkinson (mezzo soprano)
Rose Consort of Viols (John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks)
Recorded 26-28 November 2014, Great Hall, Forde Abby, Somerset
DELPHIAN DD234169 1 CD [67.20]

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