Consort playing session – December 2009

December 20, 2009

My goal this year was twelve viol consort sessions. I might not have met the goal in terms of quantity, but am happy with the quality of my playing overall. It has remarkably little to do with technical skill, and all to do with two things: an almost overweaning sense of self-confidence (derived from listening to lots of music every day even if I’m not playing any) and listening to how you blend expressively with others in consorts (good notes when your part sounds, even leaving fast notes out in your part if it means tipping the tempo over for the whole).

The last session was viol consorts for four parts (trtrTB), with just six pieces as follows. In an ideal world, we would have benefitted from another full hour, perhaps with a Jenkins fantasy and pavan to finish, but at least one of us had to travel over 200kms total for just 3 hours playing. I played treble II, which involved swapping with treble I in the In Nomines. Trebles didn’t sit together on this occasion, but the writing didn’t involve close imitation between the two trebles on this occasion so it didn’t matter as much. 

Lupo, Fantasy (no.7 or 17?). Tricky at first, but the whole is broken up by phrases with cadences involving all of us. Curious batches of repeated notes and nothing higher than a top B-flat for me.  

Wm Byrd, In nomine a4 (no.10). Writing of much restraint. This and the next weren’t familiar, mainly because they aren’t on the recording of Byrd and Mico viol consort music (Simax), but they are both on my copy of the complete consort music recorded by Fretwork.

Wm Byrd, In nomine a4 (no.11). Truly gorgeous writing, with glorious folk melodies simmering away under the In Nomine structure, about to burst forth at any moment. Concentrated on nice full bows for the long notes of the In Nomine part. I guess we took it at a speed comparable to that taken by the Rose Consort in their recording (3mins 14), compared to Fretwork’s 2mins 49secs. A lot of savouring of the “silver” sound.

Wm Cranford, Fantasy in four parts. As curious and odd a soundscape as one can possibly imagine. The individual melodic fragments make sense in themselves but their juxtaposition is unexpected. Sparse writing – it’s not as if the overall structure is clear and predictable, with moments of outlandishness. The whole thing is other-worldly rather than bloody-minded. An apt comparison was made with moments in Matt. Locke’s three-part consorts. Internet references most often indicate the five- and six-part consorts and PRB Publications (Peralta, Calif.) has published the scores, including 4-part music. I’d love a recording of them: the next-best-thing would be to type in all the notes of a short piece like this one (it starts with a full-bar note on tr2 playing a top E, with noone else playing for the full bar) into NoteWorthy Composer and playing the whole thing back to myself. 

Wm Lawes. Fantasy movement. Probably taken at too slow a tempo, but we had to make the quaver runs manageable for ourselves. We got thrown by a harmonic clash at a cadence at the start of bar 11, which at tempo probably wouldn’t have caused much trouble. Dense of course, with none of the usual obvious cadences involving all parts together. A note in the tenor part of this VdGS edition mentions a motif used by Henry Lawes in a commemorative piece in the wake of his younger brother William’s death,  a victim of friendly fire during the Civil War at Chester. 

Marco Antonio Ferro. Venetian collection of sonatas for four and five parts dating from 1649, which makes the writing quite late for Italy, but the viola da gamba symposium dedicated to Italian music some years back I think shows that viols may have been popular into the 17th century longer than we would otherwise think. Short, multi-movements – pleasant opening Adagio in 4; Presto which really required counting in 8; Adagio ending in an A-flat in my part; Tripla. Obviously not as grand a sound as double-choir Venetian music, but effective nevertheless.


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