- 3rd Annual General Meeting - Minutes
- Viols at Bungendore - Consortium 2003
- CD Review: Folies. Les Voix Humaines
- State Reports
- Report from Den Haag
- National Easter Viol School 2004
- The Soul of the Instrument
- The Score
- Sydney Viol Consort Day
- CD Review: Salamone Rossi Hebreo
- Report on Gambello
- AVdGS Members' Shop
Folies - Les Voix Humaines
ATMA CD, ACD2 2203 Recorded Sept. 2000
When you first pick up this CD of music for two bass viols, at a glance you might think it is all versions of La Folia, but it is not, though the last track is indeed Marais' famous Les Folies d'Espagne. Folie means madness, or extravagance, and thank heavens for these indulgences as the duo of Margaret Little and Susie Napper have produced another winner. Bruce Haynes' booklet notes explain that this compilation of works by Lebègue, Marais, F. Couperin and Rameau is a panoply of arrangements, varying from almost straight transcription (Couperin and Marais' La Muzette) to works which have been almost "recomposed" (Lebègue and Rameau).
Track 1 is Les Cloches, from Lebègue's Troisième Livre d'Orgue (c.1685). This piece is also on one of the duo's other CDs The Star of the Magi. The improvisatory quality of the performance and the arranger's imaginative retexturing of the music from organ to two bass viols works stunningly.
This is followed by Marais' piece Les Voix Humaines (Book 2, no. 63) from which the duo take their name. While one could simply perform the solo line accompanied by the continuo part, rather more is done here to elaborate, with extra counter melodies and chords. The result is atmospheric and beautiful.
The next two tracks are continuous, and are arrangements of two harpsichord pieces by François Couperin. I did not know these from their titles, but on listening, the first Le Dodo ou L'amour au Berçeau was quite familiar and just seemed to be conceived for viols. This runs into the Muséte de Choisi et Muséte de Taverni, which ends with a great bagpipe takeoff, complete with a very pipe-like last note. The drone potential of the viol is exploited to the full.
To make the whole Premiere Concert of Rameau's Pièces de Clavecin en concert work for two viols is an achievement. The three movements - La Coulicam, La Livri, La Vézinet - do work without the harpsichord and other melody line, though at times in the middle movement I felt it to be slightly empty. The experience of the performers with this work in its original form shows in both the arrangement and the performance.
Four more harpsichord pieces follow: Le Trophée, Airs pour la suite du Trophée, Le point du jour and L'Anguille. The notes imply that there was minimal arranging done here, and they work perfectly.
Two tracks of Marais end the CD, with La Muzette followed by La Folia from Book 2. Again, these could have been performed as written, but the art of arrangement has been applied to great effect.
At 60 minutes of music, this CD is a little less generous than we have come to expect. The booklet is adequate, consisting of an interesting essay on the practice and philosophies of arranging by Bruce Haynes, but with little detail about the music and where it came from. I had to go hunting through my own collection to find much of it. There is also a brief biographical note on the performers.
The cover picture is a detail from a painting by François Boucher called La Toilette, which shows a rather dissolute, almost mad-looking fat cat disporting itself between the open legs of (presumably) its mistress who is engaged in securing her stockings. Before the censors arrive, let me say that the legs are shrouded in petticoats, but at the time of its creation, this would surely have been classed as a pinup pic. The back cover shows the duo with instruments. It would have been nice to get some idea of the makers of viols used, any particular tunings and perhaps a little more about the players.
I hugely enjoyed the creativity, the extravagance, the artistry and the musicianship of these two wonderful bass viol players. This CD comes highly recommended.
National Easter Viol School, 9-12 April 2004
This event will be run by the Early Music Society of Victoria, and the convenor is Victoria Watts. Tutors include Judith Davidoff, well known teacher and performer from New York (founder of the NY Consort of Viols), Danny Yeadon, Miriam Morris and Ruth Wilkinson and others to be announced.
Venue is Canterbury Girls High School. More details will be available by January and mailed to members. For all enquiries, please email Victoria on
or fax her on 03 9489 7929.
AVdGS will be assisting with publicity (and moral support), but is not involved in the organisation of this workshop, so please address all enquiries directly to Victoria Watts.
Salamone Rossi Hebreo Mantovano - Siena Ensemble
The Classical Recording Company. CRC1202-2 Recorded Jan. 2002
CDs of the music of Salamone Rossi are few and far between. CDs of Salamone Rossi's music which display the depth and creativity of this one make hen's dental equipment seem common. The Siena Ensemble, creation of English gamba player Michelene Wandor in 1994, consists of recorders, voices, harpsichord and bass viols. They have explored this music in many concerts since the group's formation, and this CD combines sacred and secular works, plus a poem (by Ms Wandor) which is read by National Theatre and film actor John Shrapnel between each musical track.
Michelene Wandor is primarily a writer: poet, playwright, critic and broadcaster, as well as having achieved a M.Mus in 1989 at the Trinity College as a mature-age student. This combination of experiences, plus a strong awareness of cultures - both Christian and Jewish - and dissonances between them, has shaped the explorations of the Siena Ensemble.
Salamone Rossi, probably born in Mantua around 1570, was an instrumentalist, singer and composer who was employed at the Gonzaga court. His contemporaries were Gastoldi, Pallavicino and Monteverdi who somewhat overshadowed Rossi's achievements. It is possible that Rossi even led the band for the first performance of Monteverdi's Orfeo in 1607. Rossi died around 1630, possibly when the Austrians invaded Mantua and wreaked devastation on the Jewish ghetto, or else during the plague which followed. While Rossi stayed put in the ducal court of Mantua, his music travelled widely and is found copied by Tregian and arranged by Weelkes.
The significance of this composer's religion and its implications is something that might escape those of us who have little knowledge of Jewish history. In Rossi's era, Jews had to be identified, and were actively discriminated against in favour of Christians. They were officially ghettoised in walled cities within cities, and while there was some collaboration with the rest of the population, there were strong restrictions enforced against the Jewish population. It says something about the human spirit when confronted by such discrimination and unfairness, that beauty can still be achieved, and honour won. Apparently Rossi was twice exempted from wearing the cloth badge of identification as a Jew in 1606 and 1612, which is seen as a privilege due to his high musical standing, though Ms Wandor notes that this privilege was also twice withdrawn.
Rossi's output totals thirteen books of music, and a modern edition (CMM series) exists edited by Don Harran. Eight books are secular vocal pieces for 2-5 voices including madrigals and canzonets, another four are instrumental pieces including trio sonatas (of which genre Rossi may possibly have been the inventor) and a book of Jewish sacred music: The Songs of Solomon completes the oeuvre. In her informative booklet notes, Ms Wandor says of this last book that "Here he is challenging orthodox Jewish liturgical practice, where traditionally the 'music' is in the cantillation and responses of rabbi and congregation. Whether these pieces were ever sung as part of synagogue service is a matter of speculation, but their publication explicitly comments on a passionate debate about the place of music in Jewish religious practice in the early 17th century."
This CD is a showcase of Rossi's work from early (1600) to late (1628) with 21 tracks and great variety. The performance is excellent, with musicians Layil Barr (recorders), Jennie Cassidy (voice), James Johnstone (harpsichord), Philip Thorby (recorder, harpsichord and viol) Lisette Wesseling (voice) and Michelene Wandor (viol and recorder) giving sensitive and passionate renditions of Rossi's music. There are three Hebrew texts set, placed here at the beginning, middle and end. The trio sonatas contain variations on popular melodies (Ruggiero, Romanesca). One track that really stood out for me is the Sonata detta la Scatola (1622) which features some wonderfully expressive "bent" notes from the two recorders, and is a really wonderful piece.
Again to quote Ms Wandor: "As we are discovering with the work of many women composers, limiting social constraints direct musical production into different areas - here the small scale is not only fully achieved in its own right, but also signals expansive possibilities which were not possible at the time. Even so, Rossi offers us Hebrew-Italian; Catholic polyphony-trio sonata; dance-art music; sacred-secular; all these combine to present SALAMONE ROSSI HEBREO MANTOVANO: Something New in the Land."
The booklet is comprehensive, beginning with the poem in English, then a short essay on Rossi and his music in English, Italian, French and German, followed by texts and translations of all vocal works. Total time of the CD is just under 64 minutes. It would have been nice to have a picture or two of the performers in addition to the brief note about the Ensemble, but it is good to see that there are details of the instruments used and their makers. The cover picture is the Ceiling of the Sala dei Labirinto, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, and is of a beautiful gold maze on a black background. The picture is repeated on the back of the booklet, with the details written in Hebrew. This exquisite image is a lovely metaphor for the depth and beauty of the CD's contents. The inside front cover is a 1628 woodcut of a Mantuan ghetto.
This CD is an absolute delight, and I would love to hear the group live one day.