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Fanfare Magazine: 38:3 (01-02/2015) 
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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal


No, they’re not Venetian viols, as the title might lead one to think. And of this disc’s 32 selections, just nine derive from the Italian States, with only one by a composer who worked for a time in Venice—the Frenchman, Philippe Verdelot. So “Serenissima,” as a reference to the Serene Republic of Venice, is off course.

The facts are these: The master viol maker Richard Jones set out years ago to use extremely detailed accounts of viols made around 1540 by Francesco Linarol, whose workshop was in Venice. As Jones has written, “Players of the viol have come to accept there are uncomfortable compromises to the music if they play Bach, Purcell, Gibbons and Byrd on the same type of viol.” He states that his viols have a “plangent and incisive sound, which allows each line of a consort piece to emerge clearly, whilst the overall sonority is warm and resonant.”

So for my tastes, The Linarol Style Viols of Richard Jones would have been a more accurate album title, but nobody paid me for my opinion, or even sought it gratis. On the other hand, while I can’t say that the instruments the Rose Consort of Viols play here are a different set than those used on other releases of theirs I’ve reviewed or commented upon—they didn’t discuss those instruments—the resulting sound on this release is more mellow, less attenuated at the top. Doing a comparison across albums, the wiriness of tone I’ve noted before isn’t present here at all. Whether in the largely homophonic pair of dances by Bassano or Claude Le Jeune’s imitation-rich Première Fantasie, there’s a lean, well-blended sound to the Jones viols, with just a hint of warmth in the depths, and a bit of sweetness on the high end. It’s definitely drier than the more resonant instruments employed by Phantasm, whose viols have more of an individually distinct range of color; and Fretwork’s viols, whose lines are less easy to discern from one another, but remain a marvel of sensuously dark sound.

I can’t say whether this difference between the Rose Consort’s performances here as opposed to their discs of Purcell’s Fantazias (Naxos 8.553957), pieces of John Jenkins (Naxos 8.550687), Elizabethan songs and consort music (CPO 999 928), and An Emerald in a Work of Gold (Delphian 34115) were a matter of engineering or instruments, or possibly both. But in any case, the result is an album that’s a pleasure to listen to.

Praise, too, for the intelligently chosen program. From roughly 1490 through 1570, we get nine selections drawn from the Italian States, six from the German, four from France, and 13 from England. Each nation provides a range of styles, so that we have dance suites, fantasias, and a pair of In Nomine fantasias from England, and a dance suite, secular motets, and contrapuncti (three of a total of 125 written by Costanzo Festa upon La Spagna) from the Italian States. Some styles are unfortunately but necessarily ignored, given the timing limitations on a generous recording; so we don’t get any French madrigals such as Certon or Guyot wrote, or the frottole of Josquin or Tromboncino.

What we do get instead are a few interesting comparisons. There are three versions by Senfl of Ich stund an einem Morgen, and three versions of Sandrin’s chanson hit Doulce mémoire: the original with embellishments by Diego Ortiz, Susato’s with two new, lower parts, and Cipriano da Rore’s use in the Kyrie of his parody mass on the theme (more properly, its harmonic intervals).

The ensemble’s precision and rhythmic clarity are also noteworthy features of these performances. The slow momentum of Orlando de Lasso’s O sacrum convivium never congeals into a static mass, though some of the more popular material—such as the anonymous Galliard, with snap of a rhythmic pendant—could be treated less genteelly.

All in all, then, this is a most attractive release from the Rose Consort of Viols. I hope to hear more from them, and from the Jones set of viols, in the future.

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