Modus Phantasticus


Signum Records is delighted to release charivari agréable’s ninth CD on the Signum label.

Modus Phantasticus presents a unique collection of German viol music, transcribed and arranged in charivari’s individual and historically-informed manner.

Germany was never blessed with the same solo viol traditions that flourished in England and France. The viol took a back seat in favour of the keyboard and the violin which provided a vehicle for the elaborate technical display found in "stylus phantasticus" music.

However the viol came into to its own within a consort of instruments, gaining a reputation for providing special effects alluding to mortality and the supernatural. The ability of the viol to enrich the texture and enhance sonority of vocal and sacred music meant that it could often dominate the scoring in music of this type.

The profile of the viol in Germany was raised considerably with the arrival, during the late 16th century and the first half of the 17th century, of elite violists from England. This disc follows the development of German viol repertoire and its English influences. The pieces are chosen for their beauty, their uniqueness or their suitability for charivari agréable’s speciality – wonderfully inventive arrangements and transcriptions.


What people are saying

"The playing in all of the Bach transcriptions (there are four on the disc) is stunning – smooth, calm, and sonorous, yet with a fall awareness of individual line and harmonic structure.

Caroline Ritchie, The Consort


"It’s amazing … This new disc is a real winner. I absolutely loved it. It’s 75 minutes of glorious music, and when it finished, I listened to the whole thing all over again. I can’t recommend it anymore than that"

Mark Shepherd – 3MBS FM, Melbourne


… the intuitions of Charivari Agréable are always captivating for the listener …. a perfectly accomplished recording  … one in which the images that fire our imagination are underpinned everywhere by unflagging expertise.

Roger Tellart, Goldberg Magazine


"… Erbarm dich mein is particularly beautiful. Charivari Agréable’s playing is of the highest order"

Daily Telegraph

        "This is an exceptionally beautiful compilation, with striking atmosphere and perfectly balanced performance. Some pieces are literally difficult to tear oneself away from, a delicious Paysanen Rondeau in particular. I can’t recommend it highly enough."

Musyca 21 (Polish Journal)

charivari agréable

Susanne Heinrich – Viols
Kah-Ming Ng – Organ & Harpsichord
Lynda Sayce – Theorbo, Lute & Baroque Guitar


Reiko Ichise – Bass Viol
Asako Morikawa – Bass Viol
Susanna Pell – Viols

Release date:15th Sep 2003
Order code:SIGCD041
Barcode: 635212054128

  1. Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott, BWV 721 – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – 4.10
  2. In Dir ist Freude – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – 2.16
  3. Feritevi, ferite, SWV 9, arr. Kah Ming Ng – Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) – 2.22
  4. Suite in D major from Stricturae Viola di Gambicae (1677): Adagio – David Funck (1648-1699) – 1.25
  5. Suite in D major: Allegro – David Funck (1648-1699) – 0.58
  6. Suite in D major: Sarabande & Double – David Funck (1648-1699) – 3.58
  7. Suite in D major: Gigue – David Funck (1648-1699) – 1.07
  8. Sonata in Bb major for viola da gamba & b.c. – Davidt Adam Baudringer – 6.53
  9. Ciaccona in F minor – Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) – 6.04
  10. Concerto for four violins: Grave – Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) – 1.19
  11. Concerto for four violins: Allegro – Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) – 2.04
  12. Concerto for four violins: Adagio – Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) – 1.12
  13. Concerto for four violins: Spirituoso – Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) – 2.36
  14. Paysan en Rondeau – Ernst Christian Hesse (1676-1762) – 4.17
  15. Sonata a 2 in E minor – Augusto Kuhnel (1645-c. 1700) – 8.41
  16. Chaconne in G major – Georg Bohm (1661-1733) – 3.11
  17. Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614, arr. S. Heinrich – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – 2.20
  18. Sonata op. 2/4 in A minor – Johannes Schenck (1660-c. 1720) – 9.27
  19. Ciaconna in G major – Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) – 6.12
  20. Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 634/706, arr. S. Heinrich – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – 3.17

 Musyca 21 (Polish Journal)

The Signum Records disc includes a medley of German baroque pieces for a consort of viols with basso continuo. A truly original idea because the viol wasn’t as popular in Germany as it was in England and France. But then Charivari Agreable is an ensemble renowned for its creative approach to repertoire and likes to take all kinds of poetic licence. The idea of ‘Modus Phantasticus’, which originally meant a certain style in German music of the first half of the 17th century, has been extended to ‘tabulation’ or, in other words, re-arrangement. The disc contains, apart from the usual ‘hit’ pieces such as J S Bach’s chorales, Telemann’s concerto for 4 violins, a couple of pieces for keyboard (played by Kah-Ming Ng on the harpsichord), Bohm’s Chaconny and Pachelbel’s Ciaccony in f minor, pieces written by less known composers such as David Funck, August Kuhnel, Ernst Christian Hesse, Johannes Schenck and David Adam Baudringer.

This is an exceptionally beautiful compilation, with striking atmosphere and perfectly balanced performance. Some pieces are literally difficult to tear oneself away from, a delicious Paysanen Rondeau in particular. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 Early Music

Carefully considered and deeply interesting programming …

Charivari Agréable’s Modus Phantasticus likewise employs the practice of arranging works to suit the ensemble. Pleading a dearth of German works for viols in the North German stylus phantasticus and the presence in Germany of virtuoso English violists who would have been familiar with the trend of adapting to extend the repertory, Charivari Agréable perform a variety of arrangements alongside some rarely heard viol works such as the D major suite from David Funck’s Stricturae viola di gambicae for four bass viols (1677). The Germans enjoyed consorts of bass viols, and this suite opens with a sonorous, chordal Adagio with some affecting tremolo; in the third movement, the four violists share elegant divisions on a Sarabande. Funck (1648–1699) was a virtuoso violist, violinist, guitarist and keyboard player who, having been labelled a böser Mensch (‘wicked man’), was found frozen to death on the road to Arnstadt. The solo viol sonata by Davidt Adam Baudringer (fl. late 17th century) is in a truly phantasticus vein, and consists of a string of contrasting ideas and virtuoso flourishes, effortlessly and gracefully shaped by Susanne Heinrich with much invention.

Interestingly, one of the arrangements is by the musical amateur James Sherard (1666–1738) and comes from the same Bodleain Library manuscript as the Baudringer sonata. In his adaptation for three bass viols of the wildly virtuoso sonata, op. 2 no. 4, by Johannes Schenck (1660–c. 1720), Sherard focuses on the parts of the sonata where Schenck employs rich chordal writing and neatly omits the virtuoso division-like sections. Despite being cut down to size, the sonata works well in its new form; the passage marked by Schenck ‘Adagio Trem’ is effective, divided between three viols who can shape their separate lines according to the harmony.

The A major concerto for four unaccompanied violins of Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) fits successfully on viols transposed down to G; here again the pulsating tremolo supporting the anguished solo line in the third movement is a high point. This effect is also found in cantatas by both Buxtehude (Ad cor: Vulnerasti cor meum, BuxWV75 no. 6) and Bach (Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV106) for particularly expressive passages. Thus the arrangement of Bach’s chorale prelude Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott (BWV721), with Susanne Heinrich’s passionate treble viol solo against an accompaniment of tremolo viols, is highly appropriate.


Lucy Robinson

Viola da Gamba Mitteilungen vol. lviii (Switzerland) 

With regards to the production and execution of arrangements, viol ensembles tend to remain in the background, as opposed to saxophone quartets, flute sextets or cello octets. But there are no historical reasons for such a self-inflicted restriction of only performing music originally intended for viols. In the heyday of viol playing, there were countless arrangements of vocal and instrumental pieces, mostly intended for domestic use. Often a possible arrangement for viol consort was recommended in the title page of a collection of keyboard works.

Charivari Agreable’s CD entitled Modus Phantasticus consists of a number of arrangements, of which some are created by the group itself. Both arrangements as well as original works are gems, and the standard of the group’s playing is so high that the result is simply sensational.

The arrangements of Bach’s organ pieces and preludes work extremely well, with the risk that even viol purists might be infected by consort fever. My top favourites are In dir ist Freude BWV 615 and Das alte Jahr vergangen ist BWV 614. Some would perhaps prefer to hear the concerto for 4 violins by Telemann in the original version, but the transcription for viols exudes a special exotic flair. Telemann’s texture is so viol-friendly that at no point does one get the impression that the piece was arranged at all.

Apart from polyphonic discoveries there are also soloistic highlights of extraordinary quality. After the cantus firmus in the 1st piece Erbarm Dich mein BWV 721 the ear is drawn to Baudringer’s Sonata and the pop-likePaysan en Rondeau by Hesse. After some searching in the booklet for the identity of a particularly expressive and virtuosic, even heavenly, player, the question is answered: Susanne Heinrich.

Of definite musical worth and also excellently performed are the suite fromStricturae Viola di Gambicae by Funck and an authentic arrangement of a solo sonata by Schenck for 2 viols and b.c., arranged by a London apothecary, thus making the difficult, but obviously popular, piece manageable for amateurs.

Altogether this CD is an excellent advertisement for the endless possibilities the viol has as regards expressiveness and flexibility, and for the ‘phantastic’ German polyphony. Be warned against serious addiction!

Martin Zeller

 The Consort, vol. ix 

As a group, Charivari Agréable have managed to successfully avoid being a viol consort; they are more a viol-and-continuo-based group, whose numbers can expand from the basic core of Susanne Heinrich, Kah-Ming Ng and Lynda Sace to include extra viols, violins, wind instruments and singers, and thus have the scope for a widely varied repertoire. Their programmes, both live and on disc, reflect this; they are generally not so much themed as story-based often directed towards a particular occasion, historical or present-day. In many ways, this makes sense, particularly in the medium of consort music, an abstract and introverted art-form that was not designed for public performance. The group¹s recordings often steer towards music slightly out of the normal viol repertoire, and this disc is no exception. It is a foray into the German baroque, exploring the viol compositions that exist, and also arranging vocal and instrumental music to fit the combination of viols and continue. Arrangements form an important part of Charivari Agreable¹s repertoire; previous discs include instrumental arrangements of music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and orchestral transcriptions of the viol suites of J.B.A. Forqueray. However one views such a practice from a historical point of view, the group aims to bring the music to life using a rhetorically effective combination of instruments, reminding us that what musicians do is ultimately an art of performance, not of documentation.

Central to the ideology of the disc is the use of stylus phantasticus, a rhapsodic style of viol playing associated more with the violin. The sleeve-notes explain the position of the viol as a church instrument, representing mortality and the supernatural. This became so important in the lamentotradition, and for composers such as Schutz, that its sound often came to dominate the texture. It is this textural association that is obviously intended in the opening and closing tracks, both arrangements from J. S. Bach’s Orgel-buchlein. The calm harmonic flow and blend of the independent lines make this perfect viol music, and give an effect that is beautifully Lutheran and otherworldly. The playing in all of the Bach transcriptions (there are four on the disc) is stunning – smooth, calm, and sonorous, yet with a fall awareness of individual line and harmonic structure. Opening and closing with these transcriptions puts the disc into the church mode; this is interrupted in the second track, also an Orgel-buchlein transcription, but of the more upbeat In dir ist Freude, BWV 615. This is presumably our first example of stylus phantasticus playing, and it is given a wonderfully spirited and exuberant performance.

The next track is by Schutz; not from his viol music, however, but an arrangement of the madrigal Feritevi, ferite, SWV 9. We now move to both the lesser known composers, and to original German viol writing. The one surviving work of the apparently alcoholic and criminal virtuoso violist David Funck, the Stricturae Viola di Gambicae (1677), is written for four bass viols and makes great use of this distinctive sonority, employing a wide variety of ranges between the four instruments, and a skilled use of counterpoint. The other German style of viol playing was that of the Dutch-German virtuoso school, which is represented here by Davidt Adam Baudringer¹s Sonata in B-flat major for solo viol and continuo. The remaining viol pieces are both transcriptions. Kah-Ming Ng’s solo contribution takes the form of two chaconnes, Pachelbel¹s Ciaccona in F minor, with its expressive descending ground bass, and Georg Boehm¹s Chaconne in G major, on the familiar major chaconne bass. The playing is eloquent and crisp in both cases, and the sound of the solo harpsichord provides a refreshing interlude from the thick viol-and-continuo texture of much of the disc. The Bohm Chaconne is given a spirited and humorous performance, while the building tension and virtuosity of the Pachelbel is almost Sturm und Drang in its expressiveness.

The viol playing throughout the disc is alternately deeply sonorous and brightly articulate and the continue, although sensitive, has the depth required by this music. It is interesting that some of the most effective performances – of the Schutz madrigal and the Bach transcriptions, for example, – are not of original viol music, and that it is in the real viol music that the texture can become a little too dark and the musical effect less inspiring. Perhaps this is due, ultimately, to the prowess of Bach and Schutz over such composers as Kuhnel and Schenk, and to the fact that their music is ultimately more inspiring to play. Overall, however, this is a disc of ravishing sounds and expressive playing, and some beautiful pieces of music.

Caroline Ritchie

Goldberg, vol. 26

Unlike England or France, Germany never established a solo viol tradition, relying rather on the consort style that flourished on the other side of the Rhine, a style dominated by a delight in evocations of death, the hereafter and the supernatural.

This Stylus or Modus Phantasticus was to last all the way down to the eighteenth century (or nearly), forming a full-blown repertoire based on transcriptions of vocal or instrumental pieces for a consort of viols (with the Renaissance madrigal serving as its archetype).

In broaching this sphere of the strange, the intuitions of Charivari Agréable are always captivating for the listener. Among others, Susanne Heinrich brings her versatile talents into play, ranging from the pardessus de viole to the French 7-string bass viol. From the outset she takes centre stage (as regards affects and atmosphere) in the recording, with its arrangement of the Bach chorale Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott BWV 721, conjuring up a striking landscape of the soul, a religious, funereal vision that plunges us into the mystery of sound and the secret of things. And her partners are on a par with her, particularly Kah-Ming Ng, an outstanding strategist on the harpsichord and the organ (superb reading of the chaconnes by Pachelbel and Böhm), and a sagacious continuo player in several pieces. Enough said, this journey into the Fantastic, far from being a chimera, is a perfectly accomplished recording in terms of its results, one in which the images that fire our imagination are underpinned everywhere by unflagging expertise.

Roger Tellart

 3MBS FM, Melbourne

… these arrangements go beyond merely extending an available repertoire or recreating the spirit of the age, they allow us to hear things in the music we may otherwise miss – as soon as I listened to it, I thought "that really does work". It’s amazing: it has certainly convinced me.

This new disc is a real winner. I absolutely loved it. It’s 75 minutes of glorious music, and when it finished, I listened to the whole thing all over again ‹ I can¹t recommend it anymore than that.

Mark Shepherd

 The Strad

Charivari Agréable and guests, inspired by the German tradition of transcription, offer an engaging musical experience, their programme combining modern and period arrangements with original instruments.

The group¹s core members, Susanne Heinrich and Lynda Sayce, accompanied by Kah-Ming Ng, play Baudringer’s Sonata in B flat major with style, expression and virtuosity.  Susanna Pell partners Heinrich and Ng in Kühnel’s E minor Sonata à deux, revelling in its two aria sections and central Adagio, while the whole company masters the varied styles and techniques of Funck¹sStricturae viola di gambicae (1677), particularly in the Sarabande’s variations and the Gigue. Ng’s account of Pachelbel¹s F-minor Ciaconna radiates empathy with the idiom.

The solitary period arrangement, an anonymous transcription of Schenck’s Viol Sonata op. 2 no. 4, is convincingly conveyed Š Heinrich’s stylish treble sound stands out in her four-viol arrangement of Bach¹s chorale prelude  "Erbarm dich" BWV721 and Telemann’s Concerto in A major for four violins, though transcribed down a tone for viols, still displays its composer’s colourful sonorities and inventive musical discourse in this accomplished reading. Accounts of effective arrangements of Fux’s Ciaconna in G major and various pieces from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein complete this fascinating programme.

The recorded sound has commendable presence, clarity of detail and bloom, and the overall balance is exemplary.

Robin Stowell

 Daily Telegraph

At the very beginning of the early instrument revival, before the First World War, it was not uncommon for viols to be used in contexts that would now seem ludicrously inappropriate ­ accompanying a harpsichord in a Mozart piano concerto, for example. But though that was undoubtedly going too far, this remarkably interesting and attractive selection of 17th- and 18th-century pieces, not all of which were originally intended for viols, proves that the instrument has real expressive powers and can make an excellent showing in music far removed from the traditional consort repertoire.

These expressive qualities are heard to best advantage in arrangements of four Bach chorale preludes, of which Erbarm dich mein is particularly beautiful, but even the transcription of Telemann’s four-violin concerto for viols da gamba comes over as perfectly convincing, once the listener’s initial surprise wears off. Charivari Agréable’s playing is of the highest order both in these ensemble pieces and in the solos, including a charming rustic rondo by Ernst Christian Hesse, which complete this delightful programme.

Elizabeth Roche

BBC Music, December 2003
Performance **, Sound ****

Signum might have had trouble marketing the music of the infelicitously named Funck and Fux but thankfully this disc also includes arrangements and transcriptions of works by Bach, Schultz and Telemann. It is an absorbing and thoughtully planned selection, with music of rapt serenity (often exploiting the irresistible tremelo effect, in which a plangent melody soars over a pulsating, chordal accompaniment) alongside more exuberant works influenced by the virtuoso dfvison placing of the English viol school. Particularly effective are the consort versions of several of Bach’s organ works – translucent arrangements that will certainly appeal to anyone with an allergy to the ‘beast that doesn’t breathe’.

The title of the collection. Modus Phantasticus, might lead one to expect flamboyant flights of caprice and fantasy, but Charivari Agreable’s style tends more towards introspection and restraint – fittingly  so, since in Germany the viol was associated above all with moments of solemnity and transcendence in sacred music. At times, though, the playing is overly cautious and earthbound, plodding rather than taking wing. That said, these are perfectly competent and intelligent readings that effectively revive obscure works and shed new light on more familiar ones.

Kate Bolton