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Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds - The Earliest Consort Music for Viols
The Rose Consort of Viols
Catherine Wilkinson (mezzo)
rec. 26-28 November 2014, Great Hall of Forde Abbey, Somerset
DELPHIAN DCD34169 [67.20]

The title of this CD comes from a document dated 6 January 1515 in the Revels Accounts of Henry VIII’s court: ‘vi mynstrelles with straunge sounds as sagbutts, vyolles and outhers’. In fact viols came to England a little earlier than that. John Bryan in his excellent booklet notes, from which the above quote is taken, also tells us that when Catherine of Aragon came over in 1501 to marry the ill-fated Prince Arthur she, being a cultured young woman, brought over instruments, copies of music and even musicians from Spain to entertain her. The CD does indeed contain Spanish music which must have been known to her such as Encina’s plangent Triste Espana which was written as a lament for a member of the Spanish Royal family just a few years before.

She would have danced to the popular ‘basse danse’. Very few were written down as they tended to be improvised over a bass line or I should say a ‘tenor’. However some were and one is recorded here on the La Spagna melody. Isaac set some of these dances in his remarkable Missa La Spagna of which the Agnus is recorded here.

A glance through the contents of the ‘Henry VIII Song Book’ allows the discovery of continental composers like Hayne Van Ghizeghem, whose famous De tous biens plaine is recorded here in three versions. We also encounter Compère and Busnois whose equally famous Fortuna desperata must have been very well known at the English court. Cornish’s extensive Fa La Sol is in the same manuscript and then there's Henry’s own Hélas Madame.

On the surface this programme might seem to lack focus indeed to be a bit of ‘a dog's breakfast’. After all, we have twenty-four pieces in random order from all over Europe and with most of the composers alive c.1500. Not so, as this is meant to demonstrate the versatility of the early Viol Consort music and how it functioned. The songs, in a way, are a bit of an after-thought. Even that’s not quite true as who can resist the voice of Clare Wilkinson who is rapidly making a name for herself in this music. She has already worked with the Rose Consort of Viols including a CD entitled ‘Four Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal’ which I reviewed a few years ago. (Deux-Elles DXL1129). Clearly they have cooperated on many occasions and know what works for their combination.

According to the CD the Rose Consort play a set of viols modelled on those depicted in an Italian altarpiece from a Bolognese church of 1497 (see the CD booklet cover). We are not told who made them.

Viols however were not just to accompany a singer. The music written for them included what we might call the beginnings of ‘chamber music’ repertoire. Johannes Martini’s La martinella has no text in its manuscript and Agricola’s Cecus non iudicat de coloribus, still a work of fascination for scholars, is lengthy and clearly meant to exclude vocal participation. The beautiful Biblis (unfortunately anonymous) is just a clever sequence of rising and falling scale fragments.

Octaviano Petrucci (d.1539) started to fashion instrumental music publishing. He was responsible for its growing popularity. A manuscript rather mundanely known as Q18 (not a Spike Milligan show) was copied in Bologna and contains pieces like Josquin’s well known Adieu mes amours. This is quite a refined Italian style piece, the type which Petrucci was to publish; indeed Josquin was one of his best sellers.

Petrucci published sacred and secular works. Sacred pieces could also be played by viol consort. Perhaps at the lonely end of her life Catherine was consoled by the sacred music of her countrymen for example Peñalosa’s Missa Ave Maria in which the composer managed to combine the Salve Regina chant with the tenor of De tous biens pleine played in retrograde - a clever disguising trick.

In such a variety of music there are, not surprisingly, moments when Clare Wilkinson could have added more character to some of the pieces. I am thinking here of the quite amusing Fata la parte and in And I were a maiden in which she does not match up to the more vital Emily van Evera in The Flower of All Ships (originally on CRD1148). It's also true that much of this music has been recorded before and that this kind of compilation CD is not always sellable. However, the fact is that everything here is beautifully recorded and performed. The booklet is clearly and helpfully written and all texts are presented.

If you are fairly new to this quite refined repertoire then this disc would be a good place to start. It offers much enjoyment and gives a good rounded view of what was happening, especially in European instrumental music, during the reign of Henry VIII.

Gary Higginson
1. ANON And I were a maiden [2.16]
2. ANON De tous biens plaine a 4 [2.40]
3. ANON Fortuna desperata a 4 [1.14]
4. HENRY VIII (1491-1547) Hélas Madame [1.44]
5. Hayne van GHIZEGHEM (c.1445-1521) De tous bien plains [6.09]
6. Josquin DES PREZ (c.1450-1521) De tous biens plains a 3 [1.25]
7. Antoine BUSNOIS – attrib (c.1430-1492) Fortune esperée [1.39]
8. JOSQUIN Fortuna desperata a 3 [1.20]
9. Francisco da PEÑALOSA (c.1470-1528) Vita dulcet/Agnus dei II from Missa Ave Maria [1.40]
10. Alexander AGRICOLA (c.1445-1506) Cecus non iudicat de coloribus [5.21]
11. Juan del ENCINA (c.1468-1530) Triste Espana [2.46]
12. Johannes MARTINI (c.1430-1497) Des biens amors [2.07]
13. MARTINI La martinella [2.15]
14. JOSQUIN In te Domine speravi [4.20]
15. ANON In te Domine sperabo [2.05]
16. ANON La quercia [2.08]
17. ANON Biblis [2.12]
18. ENCINA Fata la parte [1.53]
19. ANON La Spagna [1.37]
20. Juan PONCE (c.1476-c.1521) La mi solas madre [3.05]
21. William CORNYSH (d.1523) Fa la Sol [5.52]
22. Juan de ANCHIETA (c.1462-1523) Con amores, la mi madre [3.05]
23. Heinrich ISAAC (c.1450-1517) Agnus dei II from Missa La Spagna [1.38]
24. JOSQUIN Adieu mes amours [7.42]



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