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  41:4 (03-04 /2018)
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Reviewer: James A. Altena

Although many of the choral anthems of Orlando Gibbons have been often recorded, his extraordinarily beautiful music for viol consort has been favored with far less attention. About 15 years ago Concordia recorded them complete for Metronome on two CDs; they are still in print but the first one (the Royal Fantasies) is harder to find as a CD than as a download; it seems to be in print in the UK but not the USA. There are also single-disc issues of selections available by Fretwork on Virgin Classics and Phantasm on Avie. (Apparently long out of print are releases by the New York Consort of Viols from the Musical Heritage Society and a viol trio with organ continuo headed by Jordi Savall on Astrée.) Now the French viol ensemble L’Achéron enters the fray to compete in this repertoire against the three English ensembles—and succeeds magnificently, in my view. Its take on this repertoire is very different in two ways: cultivation of a very dark, soft-grained, silvery tone, and often daringly slow tempos that suspend time in an almost Furtwänglerian fashion. By contrast, both Concordia and Phantasm favor brisker tempos, while Fretwork is somewhat more leisurely but also more acidic in tone. It is certainly possible, even likely, that some listeners will find that L’Achéron errs on the side of stasis and will prefer one of the accounts from the other side of the Channel (or Chunnel, for that matter); I, however, found this absolutely mesmerizing, fully capturing the pensive melancholy that saturates these mostly minor-key pieces. The recorded sound is ideal; the illustrated booklet is generally excellent. Two minor idiosyncrasies require mention: per the headnote “fantasia” is spelled “fantazia” here, and the MB catalog numbers are given after each piece without the “MB” prefix, which initially left me puzzled as to what the numbers signified. While all the recordings mentioned above are very much worth having, this one is my new favorite in this repertoire. Let’s hope that a companion for a complete set is planned; urgently recommended to all fellow fanciers of viol consort repertoire.

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