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Fanfare Magazine: 39:3 (11-22/2016) 
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Reviewer: James A. Altena

Although viol player and composer Christopher Simpson (c. 1605–1669) literally wrote the book on the playing of that instrument and its music with his classic treatise from 1659, The Division Violist, his music remains all too little known, as almost none of it was published until recently. Indeed, the Twenty Ayres for Two Trebles and Two Basses that receives its world premiere recording here appeared in print for the first time as recently as 2010, thanks to the Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain. This neglect is a crying shame, for Simpson was not only a technical master of his instrument but also a most imaginative composer for it; these works fully equal in quality those of much better-known contemporaries such as John Jenkins, William Lawes, and Matthew Locke. They offer a wonderfully varied synthesis of melodic sweetness, harmonic inventiveness, and fluid virtuosity.

Back in 24:6, Brian Robins provided a superb overview of Simpson’s life and music in a review of the premiere recording by Les Voix Humaines of the composer’s cycle The Seasons; as it would be sheer folly for me to attempt to duplicate or abridge its contents, I urge readers to look that up in the Fanfare Archive and read it in full. Here, I will simply note for quick convenience that the term “divisions” refers to “what we may call improvised embellishments” (per the booklet notes by Alex Parker) created extemporaneously by “the breaking up of a melody into rapid figuration and passagework” (per Robins). In the case of Simpson, however, many such divisions are fully written out, instead of being left to the imaginations and devices of the players, giving us therefore a much better idea of what this entailed than any mere verbal description.

The performances here are splendid. The foursome of the Chelys Consort—Ibrahim Aziz, Jennifer Bullock, Alison Kinder, and Emily Ashton—are the equals of their renowned sister British viol ensembles, Fretwork and Phantasm. They are immaculately supported by continuo players Dan Tidhar and James Akers. The recorded sound is ideal, and the booklet is a top-notch production for its contents, layout, and artwork. Viol music and playing simply don’t get any better than this; glowingly recommended.

A final note: On its web site, Chelys announces that its next CD will be devoted to the Lachrimae of John Dowland, with Emma Kirkby joining the quartet. That sounds like a match made in Heaven! Copies can be pre-ordered directly from the ensemble at :




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