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Collection: Music from the Courts of England and Spain.

 Virgin Veritas 2 CDs VBD5 61821 2 [CD1: 61:38] [CD2: 59:15]
(Reissue - the recording was first released in 1988)
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA £8.99

The title of Armada is somewhat misleading for there is little here to suggest war or anything martial and the music comes from the early Stuart as well as the late Tudor age. The title conveniently umbrellas a fascinating collection of music by well-known English and less celebrated Spanish composers of the period. The 2 CD album consists of approximately equal numbers of pieces from both countries on CD1 for the time of the Armada, but CD2 is practically devoted to English music. As might be expected, the more colourful numbers on CD1 emanate from Spain, making the music from the English courts sound comparatively dour and melancholy.

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the consort of viols was the most common instrumental ensemble in England and there was a great outpouring of music from such great composers as William Byrd, John Dowland and Orlando Gibbons. Royalty and nobility were often musically accomplished, frequently commissioned music for all sorts of celebrations and usually employed many musicians; all, as often as not, as proof of their power and prestige. There was great rivalry, for instance, between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots over their prowess as musicians and dancers.

In Spain there was less music committed to paper, extemporisation played a more important role - probably because of the rigid control of the Inquisition which encouraged composers to turn to pre-existing structures and elaborate on them. Professional caution led many composers to hoard their music causing its subsequent neglect and loss. One such composer was, Spain's chief composer of ensemble music, Diego Ortiz, whose improvisatory techniques influenced music well until into the 17th century. Antonio Cabezón, who in 1554 accompanied Philip II to England for his marriage to Mary, was Spain's outstanding keyboard composer and his diferencias (variations) had a distinct effect on the development of English keyboard music. Spain  was one of the first countries to adopt the lute, yet its musicians preferred the vihuela. A great exponent of the vihuela was the blind musician Miguel de Fuenllana whose compositional style was very lyrical.

Scholarly Fretwork deliver clean, crisp convincing performances supported by Michael Chance, a silvery silken counter tenor in such pieces as William Byrd's Rejoice unto the Lord and Paul Nicholson providing a harpsichord continuo on CD1 and organ on CD2.

The content of the album is:-

CD 1 embracing music from the courts of Philip II and Elizabeth I:-

William Byrd (1543-1623) -
Rejoice unto the Lord.
The Carman's Whistle
Come to me, grief forever
In Angel's Weed
Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566) -
Diferencias sobre el canto
Diferencias sobre
La Gallarda
Lopez Fantasia
Miguel de Fuenllana ( 1568)
Morenica dame
Elway Bevin (1554-1638)
Browning a 3
Diego Ortiz (c.1510-1570)
Recercada segunda 'sobre canto llano'
Recercada tercera
Hernando de Cabezón (1541-1602)
Susana un jur
Dulce Memoria
Robert Parsons (1530-1570)
Pour down, you pow'rs divine
No grief is like to mine
Robert White (c. 1538-1574)
Fantasia a 4
Esteban Daza (fl. 1575)
Quiente hizo
Picforth In nomine a 5

CD2 Music from the late Tudor and early Stuart age

Anthony Holborne (?-1602)
Almain: The Honie-suckle
Pavan: Paradizo
Coranto: The Fairie-round
William Byrd Fantasy a 5 "Two in One"
A Fancie in C
John Dowland (1563-1626)
M Buckton his Galiard
Captaine Digorie Piper his
Pavan: Lachrimae Antiquae
M Nicholas Gryffith his Galiard
John Bull (c. 1562-1628)
Fantasy a 4
Alfonso Ferrabosco (1543-1588)
In nomine a 5
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
In nomine a 5
Fantasy a 4 for the
'Great Dooble Bass'
William Lawes (1602-1645)
Aires for two division viols in C
Pavan of Alfonso
Consort Sett a 5 in C.
Paven; Almaine

A feast for lovers of 16th/17th centuries music.

Ian Lace

and Gerald Fenech adds

Virgin's elegantly packed double CD offer us a budget chance of reappraisal of some fine recordings from the late eighties and early nineties. This collection of recordings have Fretwork on top form with some delightful pieces from a wide cross section of English and Spanish composers. The astonishing variety of composers ranges from well known names such as William Byrd and Anthony Holborne on to the almost unknown Hernando de Cabezon and Robert White. This double CD set is indeed a useful way to get acquainted with this repertoire and could well open new horizons such as the complete set of harpsichord music by William Byrd on Hyperion. As already mooted earlier, all instrumentalists and singers involved in this collection are authorative interpreters of proceedings and Virgin's recordings have come up sounding as clean as a whistle. My only gripe is with the all too brief notes that are but a patchy description of these often very beautiful works. But that is to be expected in this 'twofer' business!

Gerald Fenech




Ian Lace

Gerald Fenech

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