- Consort Workshops and Hastings Consortium
- Easter Viol School Update
- State Reports
- The Score
- CD Reviews
- International Workshops
- Viols on the Web
- Lost Music
- Stringing your Viol (Technical Tip)
- Future of Our Society
- Marin Marais Project
- Orpheus Music
Consort Workshops and Hastings Consortium
Melbourne Consort Workshop - Laura Vaughan ran a Consort Workshop on June 25 in the Early Music Studio at the University of Melbourne, a fine venue for consort playing since the refurbishments of early this year. The participants -- Rosaleen Love (treble), Chris Evans (tenor), Harold Love (tenor), Stella Gray (bass) and John Weretka (bass) -- worked their way through several pieces during the course of the day, concentrating on developing listening and ensemble skills. We began the day with the meditative Quemadmodum by John Taverner, a very early consort work dating from the mid-1550s. We spent the rest of the day largely in the company of Gibbons, exploring three contrasting six-part fantasias. We concluded the day with the magnificent second In nomine by Jenkins.
We are all looking forward to many other opportunities to play together and hope to explore some repertoire with organ and plucked strings in the future. Workshops led by Miriam Morris and Ruth Wilkinson are planned for later in the year.
Our grateful thanks to Laura, whose organisation of the day was very much appreciated. We all got an enormous amount out of her skilled and insightful guidance, as well as her selection of the wonderful repertoire.
Sydney Consort Workshop
The recent viola da gamba consort day, a beautiful winters day, was held at Jenny Eriksson's studio in Putney and proved to be an enjoyable success. There were seven of us - Annabel McIver, Ruth Kelly and Richard Milner on trebles, Malcolm Lawn and Lucy Blomfield on tenors, and Jenny and I on bass.
Upon our arrival we were offered wonderful cappuccinos which were brought to us in Jenny's new studio, a well designed and appointed modern edifice with timber floors and a huge diamond shaped window and a small wall of glass looking out onto trees. Acoustically it is superb.
The music chosen was Giovani Gabrieli's Canzon V, Lucio Marenzio's Hic Est, and Purcell's In Nomine in 7 parts. Having the music 10 days or so in advance was a fine thing as some of us are not fluent sight readers and some of the rhythms and time changes within the Gabrieli proved to be tricky. However, with practice and Jenny's tutelage we managed the pieces tolerably well. One supposes Jenny's neighbours must have been uncommonly pleased!
As the day drew on and we all stood up with "gamba bottom" we decided it must be lunchtime- and what a splendid spread it was with all our contributions: dolmas, tabouli, baba ghanoush, hummos, hot bread, pizza, quiche and various salads and the like, followed by fruit salad. There was lots of jollity and talking over lunch; then it was time to resume playing. So again we trooped out to Jenny's studio in the garden and played on, stopping and starting and eventually running through the pieces until around 3.30pm.
One of the reasons for the day's success was having the music in advance and second the manner in which Jenny teaches: constructive criticism, praise and example. And lots of smiles! Jenny's warmth and friendliness builds confidence and makes one feel truly privileged.
Full marks to Ruth for having provided the music from which these pieces were selected from her extensive library and also to Richard for bringing the day to fruition. I look forward to the next.
The Hastings Consortium is in the final phase of planning as I write. We had 10 viols enrolled though unfortunately one has had to withdraw. The number of singers from the Hastings Chorale is still unknown but will hopefully enable the planned music to be played. It is hoped to end the weekend with a small and informal concert at McKillop College where the Consortium will be held. Our thanks to Andrew Peters for his local organisation.
The next Sydney Consort Day will be held at Jenny Eriksson's on Saturday August 27 - see enclosed application form and notice. A further consort day in Sydney with Danny Yeadon is being planned for October/November. Watch this space. Melbourne is also not going to miss out with Consort Days from Ruth Wilkinson in August and Miriam Morris on November 6. Again you will be notified when the arrangements are finalised.
Easter Viol School Update
The next Easter Viol School will be held in Canberra from 14 to 17 April 2006. A suitable venue has been found and Miriam Morris has accepted the committees invitation to be the Musical Director. Three other Australian tutors have been asked and are making themselves available though no firm arrangements have been made as yet. It is likely that there will be no overseas tutor this year but hopefully in 2007 we will have one. A possible caterer has been approached. The Professional Class will be held again but confined to half of each day. It is hoped that the participants will integrate into the rest of the School for the other half. Discussions are currently underway on a theme and extending the school to include singers and broken consorts. We welcome your feedback and so please let me or Miriam have your ideas.
William Byrd Consort Songs
Emma Kirkby, soprano with Fretwork
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907383 (Price about $30.00 obtainable from all good record stores)
It is a tribute to the genius of William Byrd that virtually every viol consort with an international reputation has a recording of his consort songs currently available. Indeed, this is the third occasion that Fretwork has recorded Byrd's consort songs; firstly, with countertenor Michael Chance in the late 1980s, and later, in the mid 1990s, with members of I Fagiolini. Now, another ten years on, Fretwork is here joined by Emma Kirkby, surely the doyen of English early music singers, in what is really a very special recording of this remarkable music.
The disc contains twelve of Byrd's consort song, drawn predominantly from Byrd's mid-career publications "Sonets, & songs of sadness and pietie" (1588) and "Songs of Sundrie Natures" (1589). The texts are mostly devotional or contemplative in subject, with the lightest being "My mistresse had a little dog" which is tempered somewhat by the said little dog meeting with a particularly sticky end. The courtier poet Sir Philip Sidney is featured in the collection, firstly as the author of "O you that hear this voice" and then as the subject of the elegy "O that most rare breast". Contemporary events intrude with the inclusion of "The noble famous Queen" which was written in memory of Mary Queen of Scots after she met her sticky end. Those of you who keep a lookout for suitable material for performances around Christmas will be interested to hear "Out of the orient crystal skies" which describes the visit of the magi. The program of consort songs is broken up by the welcome inclusion of two of Byrd's six part fantasias (II & III), his six part Pavan and Galliard, and a four part fantasia (III).
Through her deep understanding of this repertoire, Emma Kikby brings the texts of these consort songs alive, delivering the songs in a very declamatory style. By this clear articulation of the texts, the listener is given a rare glimpse into the complexities of the Elizabethan psyche. Similarly, both in its contribution to the consort songs and in the consort pieces, Fretwork put the emphasis on clear, and at times robust, articulation. The consort sound is that of a distinctively Renaissance viol consort, rather than the lush, more refined sound of a later era.
Harmonia Mundi has done a wonderful job with the presentation of this CD. The texts are well laid out, the notes by David Pinto are informative, and the graphic design is quite beautiful; the cover shows the mistress with her little dog. The booklet also gives the details of the editions used in the recording, which all appear to be readily available.
This recording is a must for consort players, those who sing with viol consorts, and indeed anyone who has an interest in the Elizabethan period. The attentive listener will find much to ponder upon in this recording, and will return to it again and again, each time discovering new insights. Which surely is what Byrd and his collaborators intended.
CD Review Andrea De Carlo
Music of Marin Marais for 2 viola da gamba and continuo -
Catalogue Number M069A
- Suite in a minor book 5
- Suite in e minor book 2
- Tombeau pour Mr. de S. te Colombe
- Suite in d minor for 2 gambas book1
Sitting down to review the playing of a colleague is not easy to do. As a gambist I find it hard to be objective as I know and share all the strengths and short comings of the instrument. With this in mind I made a conscious choice to approach this review without scores, to address the playing as a listener rather than as an analyst.
The CD contains no biographies or notes on the music so it is hard to know if this is the first CD by De Carlo or one of many. The liner notes do, however, contain a wonderful descriptive piece reflecting on the elderly Marais. The production values of the cover are high and the layout and printing is quite beautiful.
De Carlo opens well with one of the Marais' most popular works, the a minor suite from book 5. With just the two gambas and a theorbo playing the listener is able to focus on the unique sound of the gamba without unnecessary distractions. The sparsely scored opening contrasts with the dramatic entry of the second movement, the Allemande, where the harpsichord joins forces with the continuo section. There is an energetic "vibe" in this piece which shows flare and individuality. It made me look forward to hearing the rest of the CD.
I know from experience that the e minor suite from book 2 is not an easy piece to pull off. The key of e minor is by no means the hardest key for the gamba but the loss of the two open "d" strings restricts the resonance of the instrument resulting in the player having to work harder to make a good sound. The Prelude on this recording is warm and rich but as the suite continues the quality declines in comparison to the first suite.
As the CD unfolded it became apparent that there are some fundamental elements missing from this recording. The sound quality is inconsistent and even "booms" at times (especially when the whole continuo section is playing) in a way that made me wonder if the sound engineering approach was consistently applied during the recording. There are movements where the solo gamba is resonant but others where I felt that the tone was lost.
De Carlo does have a good edge to his sound and there are beautiful moments when just the theorbo is playing or just the two gambas. However in my view, there needs to be more variation in the tone colour and more of that warm "middle tone" which the gamba can so generously offer.
One of the distinctive characters of French music of this period is the "swinging" freedom of the rhythm. This is something that Marais' music demands and something I would like to have heard more of from the artists.
Finally in saying all the above I would like to commend any gambist who sits down and records. Although the gamba has a radiant beauty it can be a beast of an instrument to record and perhaps some of the issues I have identified can be addressed in future CDs.
For details and how to purchase this CD
go to http://www.marecordings.com. It costs $US15.
Königliche Gambenduos (Royal Gamba Duos)
(Leonore von Zadow-Reichling and Monika Schwamberger bass viols, Lore Everling cembalo/Cavalli Records CCD 230).
This is a recent recording from the team behind Edition GÃ¼ntersberg (guentersberg.de), a small company specialising in German viol music, particularly the relatively unexplored territory of the Berlin viol school of the eighteenth century. The activities of this school have received sustained scholarly attention at the hands of Michael O'Loghlin, who wrote the liner notes for this recording. We hope to feature a review of GÃ¼ntersberg's new edition of C.P.E. Bach's C major sonata in the forthcoming edition of Chelys, but it is worth stressing the important contribution this company is making to ensure this repertoire is readily available. A visit to the website (http://www.guentersberg.de/) is definitely encouraged!
This CD is a kind of advertisement for the series of volumes of "royal gamba duos" that GÃ¼ntersberg released in 2002, a modern edition of eighteenth-century transcriptions for viol/s of works primarily for violin. The source manuscript, Recueil des plus belles sonates, appears to have been compiled around 1760, probably under the Ã¦gis of Ludwig Christian Hesse for use with his student Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia. If this recording is anything to go by, this is a series of publications well worth exploring.
The programme on this disc is faithful to the catholic nature of eighteenth-century taste - really superb works such as Leclair's sonata in A minor (drawing on his Opp 1 and 2 collections) jostle with frankly tedious works such as Boismortier's sonata in C minor. Well-known composers like Leclair and Corelli (who is represented by a transcription of one of the Op. 5 sonatas) are balanced with lesser-known names such as Somis and SenalliÃ©. While most of the works sit easily within French or Italian spheres of influence, the more volatile empfindsam style is represented by Benda's sonata in F major. The players strike a pleasing balance between pieces for two basses without continuo, solo bass with continuo and solo treble with continuo.
I have just a few quibbles with this disc. I was struck in the accompanied works by how "faceless" the accompanying part was prepared to be. While it is true that the stereotypical nature of many of the accompaniment patterns in this repertoire does not allow an enormous amount of character to be injected into the performance, I wished for more shape and interaction with the solo part. The harpsichordist and continuo gambist seemed unwilling to be interlocutors in a discussion, and read their roles merely as harmonic support, and with the sometimes limited harmonic palette of these works, that's really not enough.
The performances on the whole - and some of the repertoire doesn't help this - are a little colourless, lacking a desire to take risks, pull tempi around, or make characteristic gestures. A greater focus on dynamic and articulative variation would have brought an added layer of vibrancy to these readings.
My major concern with this disc is the quite unacceptable recorded sound. A large room with relatively distant miking has evidently been used. This forced the solo part into unnecessary relief in several sonatas, and contributed to the perception of a recessed accompaniment. It also meant that the sound of the viols became indistinct in the lower registers, when the texture became busier, or the viols were playing in close harmony in the lower part of the range. The generous recorded sound favoured by Jerome HantaÃ¯ and Kaori Uemura in their PiÃ¨ces pour deux basses de violes (recently re-released as a budget double from Virgin Veritas) ought to have served as an excellent model for the sound on this recording.
To buy this CD in Australia contact
or order on line from http://www.classicdirect.de
Stringing Your Viol (Technical Tip)
Many players contact us for advice about stringing, so a it may be helpful to talk about a few of the basic principles behind practical stringing. This is the first of several commentaries on stringing for the viol family.
The basic elements that determine the string selection for an instrument are:
String length. This is the vibrating string length of your instrument. That is the distance between the nut and the bridge. Commonly, for the standard viol sizes, the string lengths vary within a certain range. Treble viol string lengths are generally between 32 and 37 cm, tenor viols vary between 54 and 60 cm, and the bass viol varies from about 65 - 75 cm. It is useful to know the string length of your instrument, because usually, a set of strings is calculated to give a graduated tension which decreases from treble to bass and string length is the primary determining factor in calculating the right gauge for each string. There are other systems, such as the currently popular "equal tension", but usual practice from the early 18th century onwards appears to have been the graduated system combined with the use of overspun strings for the bass.
Playing pitch. The pitch you play at affects the tension enormously. A semitone increase in pitch means about 15-20% increase in string tension for the same gauge of string, so, going from 415 to 440Hz using the same strings can add 6 - 9 Kg extra tension to your bass viol. When moving between pitches (415 - 440 most commonly) it is often useful to change the top 3 strings for 1 gauge lighter (for instance, if your bass viol has a 0.70mm diameter gut d' string at a' = 415Hz, then at a' = 440Hz a 0.68 mm string will give you nearly the same tension.). The bass strings, being under less tension, generally cope with the transition better, but players often note a tightness and unpleasant nasal quality when going up in pitch.
The transition from plain gut to wound strings. For historical instruments like the viol, it is interesting to be aware that the wound strings we take for granted today were once rare and exotic things. They appeared around 1670 and over the next 10 years, transformed the possibilities for the bass of all bowed instruments. The growth of the virtuoso soloist is largely dependent on the impact of the wound string. The addition of the 7th string to the viol is a direct result of the development of wound strings. Nonetheless, the wound string as a tonal ideal was not well accepted on all instruments and was used in a limited way. Often in historical iconography, a 7 string bass viol will have only 2 wound strings and a treble may have only 1. This is due to the fact that plain gut string technology was more highly developed than today. Many twisting and weighting techniques common in the 17th century are today lost and only conjectured about. Gradually, advances are being made, and this permits the chance to increase the amount of plain gut we use on instruments. As a general rule, plain gut, high twist gut, roped gut or half-wound gut should be employed as much as possible and only those strings that won't work with these string types should be fitted with overspun strings.