This was Charivari Agreable’s first recording for Signum. The hook on which this recital of renaissance instrumental music and songs hangs is the music associated with the four wives of King Philip II of Spain (1527-1593). This gives the ensemble an opportunity to offer us a wide variety of music tenuously linked together.
King Philip’s wives were Mary of Portugal in 1543, Mary Tudor 1554, Isabella of France in 1559 and Elizabeth of Valois. The only French composer represented is Eustache du Caurroy (1549-1609) with his three-part fantasias on a delightful French melody that immediately follows it, “Une jeune fillette’. There are four English pieces including one by Alfonso Ferrabosco who was a Spanish exile anyway, and the rest is Spanish music although Diego Pisador, who is represented by two microscopic songs, had Portuguese connections.
On balance I have to say that the King’s four wives are not equally represented, however let us put that to one side. The composers represented include Diego Ortiz (1510-1570) a great instrumental composer and a writer of a treatise on division playing, Antonio de Cabezon (1510-1566) the great blind organist and composer and his son Antonio de Cabezon who gathered together all of his late father’s music into a collection. Also, Luis Milan (c1500-1561) the famous composer and vihuela player of his day. No doubt all were known to the King although the booklet does not tell us directly if any worked at court. Milan surely did.
These instrumental pieces (nineteen tracks) are interspersed with ten song settings, (texts and translations are provided) sung by the clear voiced Nicki Kennedy, soprano and the honey-toned Rodrigo del Fozo, tenor who also plays renaissance guitar. As indicated, the songs and instrumental variants often sit next to each other. The players use modern copies of ancient instruments listed in the booklet. Susanne Heinrich plays a lyra viol and a six string bass viol. Kah-Ming Ng is a harpsichordist and plays the chamber organ. Lynda Sayce plays seven instruments including various lutes. Sarah Groser plays a bass viol and Reiko Ichise a bass viol. These instruments are generally well balanced and very clearly recorded.
Some of the pieces have been arranged for several of these combinations of instruments. The three pieces from the ‘Lautenbuch de Octavianus Fugger‘ have been arranged by Susanne Heinrich and Lynda Sayce for viols, also Kah-Ming Ng has arranged, amongst other things, the beautiful harpsichord setting by Hernando de Cabezon of Lassus’s Susane ung jur'(sic) for viols with renaissance flute and harpsichord.
The booklet notes by Lynda Sayce are well written and of interest, but disappointingly, say little about the composers or about the wives of Philip. She does comment however on improvisation in 16thÂ Century Spain and describes as “extraordinary” Valderrabano‘s “Descante sobre un punto’ which is a written out set of improvisations over a drone. This is indeed “the other end of the scale” from the meticulously composed keyboard variations of Cabezon senior.
In fairness this repertoire has been chewed over by various musicians in the last few years – for example, none better then Jordi Savall on say his ‘El Cancionero de Medinaceli’ (Astree Auvidis E8764). Here the emphasis is on the instrumental adaptation of vocal and keyboard works. This, coupled with some delightful and beautiful musicianship, make this a worthwhile CD to add to your collection.