- Sydney Consort Day, Consortium and EVS
- Viols West
- Concert Calender
- Technical Tip
- News from the UK
- Concert Review - Viols 'n violin
- Mara meets Marais
- New Viol Music
- Development Fund
- CD Review - Bach sonatas
- Viols on the Web - A fret calculator
Sydney Consort Day, Consortium and Easter Viol School 2009
After a break of many months, another Sydney Consort day was held on Sunday August 24. The tutor was Jenny Eriksson and it was held at her studio in Putney. The line up of Annabelle McIver and Richard Milner, trebles, Clive Lane and Joan Milner (tenors), Di Ford and Helen Aladjadjian (bass) enabled a variety of 6 part music to be studied. Unfortunately Di was unwell and so Jenny had to play her part as well as tutor. She did this with great aplomb! The main fare was the Ferrabosco Fantasy no 2 which proved to be quite challenging. We warmed up with a madrigal by Bateson - When Oriana Walked. This fitted the viols well and was a rewarding piece to establish the ensemble in the group. Before lunch, we decided to tackle the Ferrabosco which is in two distinct sections. The first is quite slow and harmonically interesting, and the second section with quite lively imitative passages. After a pause for a delicious lunch the highlight of which was Jenny's cauliflower and coconut soup, we listened to Jordi Savall's group playing the Ferrabosco. They brought a marvellously meditative spirit to the first section and then played the second section very fast - quite a contrast which we could not emulate! However we did manage to capture the mood of the first section after hearing this wonderful recording. We had two more pieces on our programme but after an initial run though of Musica by Lassus we decided that we did not have enough time to do justice to this deceptively 'simple' music. So we ended by playing a madrigal by East - Your Shining Eyes which as with the Bateson we found most rewarding and not too challenging to play.
The October Consortium was switched to Bungendore, NSW, when it became clear that we were not able in the time to organise the Beechworth venue. Hopefully we will organise a consortium to bring the Sydney and Melbourne viol players for a weekend at Beechworth in the future. Some 8 players are enrolled for the Bungendore weekend (October4/5) and it is hoped to study a range of music in 3, 4 and 5 parts with two groups running concurrently. Music by Coprario, Byrd, Montaro, Bassano, Ferrabosco, Ward, White, Lupo etc has been distributed to the players. A dinner at the famous Bungendore Woodworks is planned for the Saturday night and with partners I think we will have 12 people.
The Easter Viol School as already announced will be held in Melbourne at the Canterbury Girls Secondary College from 10 - 13 April and the Musical Director will be Laura Vaughan. Les Voix Humaines (Susie Napper and Margaret Little) from Canada will be tutors. Other tutors will be engaged as the need arises. The event will be under the financial management of the Society with local arrangements by the Early Music Society of Victoria. A brochure will be issued around the end of the year or early next year.
Technical Tip: Is Consort Music Antiphonal?
I recently came across an interesting and provocative article in Early Music by Richard Rastall (May 1997, pp. 269 - 288) in which he explores the possibility that composers of consort music had antiphonal effects in mind. He was stimulated into undertaking this study by a comment from Oliver Neighbour in his preface to Byrd's 6 part consort music that it was 'antiphonal'. Thus a spatial separation between similarly pitched instruments provided for 'pitch range antiphony' or 'phrase exchange'.
Richard sought to find out how consorts of the day actually disposed themselves. His main source of data was a manuscript in the British Library which contained part books intended for placement on a table and thus allowing all six players to see their music facing towards them. There are nineteen pieces by various composers including Mundy, Parsons, Tavener, Ferrabosco, Byrd and Tye in this book for 6 part consorts and the arrangement of players is remarkably uniform. The tenors are at either end of the table while the treble 1 and bass 2 (part VI) sit together on one side and bass 1 and treble 2 sit opposite them.
Robert Parson's Trumpets is probably the piece most familiar to us today and Richard claims that in bar 3 the trebles are so close in pitch that the entry of treble 1 is unlikely to be heard unless the payers are physically separated as suggested in this manuscript. He goes on with a detailed analysis of this work and the influence of players spatial positions.
Of course, it could be argued that this arrangement is purely for ergonomic reasons - trebles require less room to play than tenors or basses and so having them placed apart is the most convenient way for all the players to play comfortably. Unfortunately the iconographic evidence is not useful in this regard.
There are also 5 part pieces in this manuscript and here the arrangement is treble 1 on one side facing treble two with the fourth part on his right and fifth on the left. The middle part in across the spine of the book thus requiring this player to sit on the same side as the player of the second part. Richard then analyses some of this music before going on to discuss Dowlands 5 part music with lute which is also found written out for performance around a table.
Players of the day did not have an audience and thus could sit in a circle just as we can today when playing for ourselves. In this case, Richard suggests we should try to separate the trebles, and the tenors and the basses as much as possible.
When playing for an audience he suggests sitting in a curve from left to right looking from the audience:
treble 1; tenor 2; bass1; bass 2; tenor 2; treble 2
for 5 part pieces he suggests:
treble 1; bass 1(or tenor 2) ; tenor; treble 2; bass 2
This is a long article and I have tried to present the most important features, but I urge you to read it as there is much I have had to leave out. Also my interpretation may not be yours!
CD ReviewBach Gamba Sonatas
Magnatune - Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks and Pieter-Jan Bolder;
available by download from Magnatude
Comparisons can be odious but are sometimes pertinent, especially when writing CD reviews. On this occasion, having listened to the first two Bach Gamba Sonatas played by Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks, gamba, and Pieter-Jan Bolder, harpsichord, I needed to refresh my memory and my ears by listening to recordings of these cornerstones of the repertoire for which I have respect and admiration. I return again and again to Jordi Savall and Ton Koopman, Wieland Kuijken and Gustav Leonhardt, who have each recorded these works more than once. Each time I am inspired and find something new to excite the ears, intellect and emotions. I returned to Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks and Pieter-Jan Bolder for the G minor Sonata but was so dismayed by the immaturity and lack of understanding of line, particularly in the Adagio, that my initial reactions were reaffirmed.
As this CD is available by downloading, there was no booklet to refer to. As I had not known anything about the two players concerned, I did a Google search that proved highly entertaining for this veteran. Publicity in this day and age of the computer and all the paraphernalia that goes with it is a far cry from anything that I grew up with. Don't get me wrong; there is nothing the matter with that. In this instance I was able to access a lot of information in terms of images, programmes, reviews and all the concert engagements going years back, that would have been far more difficult to do 30 years ago.
There is much highly polished professional glitz and hype in Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks' publicity that would be fine if it were to be backed up by playing of a high order. Granted, this is the first recording I have heard of his, but it struck me forcibly that to record these iconic works at such an early stage of a gamba player's career, (he looks as though he is in his early thirties at the most), showed serious lack of judgement. To be fair, Meulenbroeks has considerable facility and a sometimes produces a pleasing sound, but, in the last analysis, shows little real insight into this great music. It is not enough to be fluent and technically proficient if the result is not to musical ends. On the other hand, the harpsichord playing of Pieter-Jan Bolder is excellent, showing regard for phrasing both the macro and micro aspects of articulation and punctuation with a true sense of overall structure. The gamba playing lacks detail, concentrating on long lines to the detriment of phrasing and interplay with the harpsichord. It is hard to say whether it is the fault of the sound engineer that the gamba sound lacks immediacy and presence or whether the fault lies with the playing. I found myself listening to the harpsichord rather than both players.
There are many fine recordings of the Bach Gamba Sonatas too numerous to list in this review (I will try to include a list in the next newsletter - edit). Sadly this particular version is one to which I am unlikely to return. Maybe this would be a good topic for lively discussion in the next Newsletter as I would be very interested to hear other opinions.