Viols LeStrange & Lovely

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

It’s so easy to immediately warm to well-written, well-played, and well-recorded music for viols–and why would you even think about resisting its reedy, rich, resonant magic, anyway? The ensemble known as LeStrange Viols (named cleverly but legitimately after a “17th-century English nobleman” and collector of consort music) offers here a generous sampling of pieces drawn from an Elizabethan manuscript known as “Additional Manuscript 31390” (its un-clever but very practical British Library designation).

From the recording’s subtitle, Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde, you might expect to hear some, well, strange, or at least unusual concoctions for this very traditional configuration of instruments. While there’s nothing exactly wild or extreme—no Gesualdo-like adventures in harmony—there’s plenty of other kinds of aural excitement, from the engaging rhythmic riffs (two In nomines by Tye and Brewster; Janequin’s Or vien ca) to the reams of dissonances known as cross relations that are everywhere, but especially bold—and numerous—in Byrd’s O salutaris hostia and Tye’s Lawdes Deo.

The seven players—some listeners will recognize a couple of names from the outstanding Baroque ensemble Acronym—perform on an impressive array of authentic 16th-18th century instruments, most of which were loaned from the Caldwell Collection of Viols. The program’s repertoire, which includes selections from both instrumental and vocal works (the latter notably featuring motets by Byrd, Tallis, and Tye), was carefully chosen to highlight the manuscript collection’s variety and quality. The playing—stylish, energetic, sensitively balanced, and tonally rich—and the recording (made at Oberlin, Ohio), allow us to experience the uniquely compatible sound and expressive capacity of these instruments as well or better than you’ll find anywhere in the catalog. For fans of viols, gorgeous sound, and affecting music, this is a must.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Aeternum

Works for Viol Consort by William Mundy, John Taverner, Robert Parsons, Christopher Tye, William Byrd, Clément Janequin, Osbert Parsley, Thomas Tallis, Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Picforth, Philip Van Wilder, others

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