An English Fancy = WILLIAM BYRD: Sellenger’s Rownde; TOBIAS HUME: Captain Hume’s Lamentation; WILLIAM LAWES: Suite No. 8 in D Major; JOHN JENKINS: Suite in G Minor; CHRISTOPHER SIMPSON: “The Little Consort,” Suite in G Minor/Major; THOMAS BALTZAR: John Come Kiss; MATTHEW LOCKE: “For Several Friends,” Suite in B-flat; HENRY PURCELL: Ayres, Compos’d for the Theatre; Pavane in B-flat; Hornpipe from Abdelazer “Hole in the Wall” – Trio Settecento – Çedille CDR 90000 135, 79:47 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This is the fourth and last volume in the Trio Settecento’s admirable chamber trip through Europe; previous volumes having taken us to Italy, France, and Germany. All are worthwhile, even exceptional, but I think that this latest is my favorite. It is certainly among the most tuneful, that particular trait having been an English specialty for ages past, reaching well back into the middle Ages and before. Even the instruments chosen, as Rachel Barton Pine is quick to point out, required no easy learning curve. She chose a modern copy of a Renaissance instrument which meant new concepts of balance, some breaking of good habits of the wrist in order to support the instrument, and finding her first notes were “the most out-of-tune I have played since my first Suzuki lessons at age three!” Indeed the music on this recording brings the Trio closest to the Renaissance of any of their previous discs, and Rachel’s efforts seem to have paid off in spades, despite the re-learning of things as basic as how to hold the violin (The Renaissance violin is held on the arm and not the shoulder).
The disc features what the Trio, rightly, considers the primary force of English musical chamber form, that of the Fantasy, or even fancy, a free form not always devoid of stricter formal elements but often serving as a springboard for all sorts of instrumental imaginary exploits like, as the notes so descriptively tell us, “melody, harmony, counterpoint, decoration, instrumental techniques, gestures, colors, combinations, and even spiritual exploration”. This last is something that should not go unnoticed as the music offered is exceptional in its fecund melody and sometimes heart-wrenching affectedness. The composers represented are the finest England has to offer during this time period of approximately 150 years, with some surprising pieces by Christopher Simpson and Matthew Locke (two of my favorites here) as well as tunes that are instantly recognizable if not associated with compositions that pop into mind.
The sound is terrific, as in all of the discs in this series, and the 80 minutes offered provide only moments of exquisite beauty and great interest, not one second letting the attention flag. Now that they have finished this particular series I can’t wait to see what comes next.