Harp Consort Suite in g. Lyra Viol Solos in G. Harp Consort Suite in d. Lyra Viol Solos in g. Harp Consort Suite in G. Lyra Viol Solos in d. Harp Consort in G: Aire
Sophie Gent (vn); Givanna Pessi (hp); Eduardo Egüez (thb); Philippe Pierlot (lyra vl, bs vl)
FLORA 1206 (60:50)
This release celebrates not just the consort music of Charles I’s favorite composer, but two instruments that are curiosities in consort performance. The first was the harp as an early 17th-century substitute for the organ in accompanying viol consorts. The other, the lyra viol, was fairly common in England during that period. It was a smaller, lighter bass viol, whose size and flattened bridge made it easier to play chords and the quick divisions English composers delighted in. A professional gambist of my acquaintance states that the lyra viol is more of an amateur’s instrument—if by amateur we mean an intelligent, talented 17th-century amateur of a prosperous background, who in the best tradition of Castiglione’s popular
Book of the Courtier
, denies ever paying much attention to developing skill through practice. Thirty consort compositions by Lawes that include the harp survive, and nearly 40 with the lyra viol in six different tunings.
The music itself is more discreet in its contrapuntal and harmonic originalities than in some of Lawes’s consort works, notably those accompanied by organ. (Phantasm has an excellent album of the latter on Linn 399.) The pattern is that of an instrumental arrangement of a vocal melody in two parts (the pavan that leads off the G-Minor Suite strongly suggests Dowland’s greatest hit,
Flow my tears
, and the aire that concludes the disc, a major key variant), followed by repeats with various divisions. Some of the dances also suggest the common practice of variations on a single theme, though Lawes inevitably finds some rhythmic or harmonic element to make each distinctive. The exception would be the “fantazya” of the D-Minor Harp Consort Suite. A more contrapuntal, clearly instrumental work than the dance movements on this release, its introduction of an intensely melancholy chromatic phrase in imitation at the three-quarter mark is worthy of Gesualdo, though presenting expressive extremes in music was not unusual in English composition of the period.
The musicians avoid textural monotony by alternating sequences of harp consort works and lyra viol solos. The performers are all accomplished and well known on their respective instruments, with especial praise due Philippe Pierlot. His 12 solos are technically proficient, rich in tone and character, and flexibly phrased while never losing sight of the dance origins of each piece.
Excellent sound, emphasizing clarity in all parts of the harp consort. Less individualized than some of Lawes’s music, these pieces have an irresistible vitality and simplicity. Strongly recommended.