Two Upon a Ground


Two Upon a Ground explores the peculiarly English approach to writing instrumental variations known as ‘divisions’. The style is principally known for the way it enables a player to demonstrate both a virtuosic command of the instrument and an imaginative understanding of the musical possibilities inherent in a short musical phrase.

The repertoire heard here is begins with the undisputed master of the genre, Christopher Simpson, and continues with further virtuosic duets and divisions by Jenkins, Lawes, Tomkins and Purcell.


What people are saying

"A sunny disposition enhanced by an excellent recorded sound"
"… precise articulation and clear phrasing result in lively and effortless playing"
Viola da Gamba-Mitteilungen (Switzerland)
"Just buy it! It is all beautifully played"
Early Music Review


Charivari Agréable

Susanne Heinrich – Bass & Treble Viol

Kah-Ming Ng – Bass & Treble Viol

Lynda Sayce – Guitar & Theorbo

Susanna Pell – Keyboards

Release date:1st Sep 1998
Order code:SIGCD007
Barcode: 635212000724

Music Web – August 2002

This illuminating disc of English 17th Century instrumental music is built primarily around several examples of the composition known as the Division, i.e. continuous variations on a short theme or “ground”. This was a type of piece popular and, seemingly uniquely so, in England during the 17th Century and into the earliest years of the 18th Century.

Two of the great masters of the Division were Christopher Simpson (died 1669), who published The Divison Violist in 1659 (two further editions appeared over the succeeding half century) and his friend and admirer John Jenkins (1592-1678). They are represented here by four Simpson examples (the A Major and first of the F Major are here recorded for the first time) and two by Jenkins of which the A Major is also a recorded premiere. All are for two bass viols and a continuo of guitar or theorbo and organ or harpsichord. As compositions they are at the same time restful for the listener and impressive in their grasp of compositional technique. Others, of course, mastered the craft of writing divisions and they are represented by Finger’s example. This one is for just a single bass viol and continuo. We can add Purcell’s Ground which features treble, rather than bass, viols and continuo and is for my money the finest piece on the disc. Finger’s solo Sonata for treble viol and harpsichord is in four thematically related sections and is very fluent and approachable in idiom. Finger, who came from Moravia, but lived in London for some two decades at the end of the 17th Century, wrote much for the theatre, as did Matthew Locke. Locke’s two short pieces recorded here for two bass viols without accompaniment seem to me to be at the more austere end of his output. Another work for two viols but with organ “continuo” is the suite in G Minor by Williams Lawes, most impressively written, though the extended opening Pavan is hardly balanced by the two short Ayres which make up the rest of the Suite. Lawes was a big loss to music in England when he was killed at the Siege of Chester in the Civil War.

Charivari Agreable perform all this music in admirable style. Susanne Heinrich and Susanna Pell play the viols, Linda Sayce guitar and theorbo, Kah-Ming Ng harpsichord and spinet. The harpsichord, a Ruckers of 1623, and spinet, a Keene instrument of around 1680, are notable instruments. The theorbo is a modern reconstruction of an English theorbo, different from the unusual Italian type. Both bass viols, the harpsichord, organ and theorbo are given the opportunity to be heard in solos. The solos for bass viol are by Tobias Hume and appropriately so, as he was a firm advocate for the instrument and his affection for it certainly emerges in these two quite extended movements. Thomas Tomkins, a survivor from the great Elizabethan/Jacobean period, is represented by four short keyboard solos, three on the Ruckers, one on chamber organ. The English theorbo solo is the only item on the disc which is not by an English born or resident composer, but Gaultier’s deeply serious and again quite extended movement is a not inappropriate interloper as his music was highly regarded in Restoration England.

Purcell apart, the period 1625-1700 has never had quite the prestige in the history of English musical development as the two generations prior to 1625, but this excellently recorded, generously filled, thoroughly recommendable CD (along with others which have appeared in recent years) should certainly help to put a strong case for it. Lawes, Locke and, despite their relatively limited field, Simpson and Jenkins, deserve to be remembered.

Philip L Scowcroft

Early Music – The Spirit of Gambo

…There is some fine treble playing on charivari agréable’s Two upon a Ground, notably in Purcell’s ingenious Two in One upon a Ground where Susanne Heinrich and Susanna Pell give a gentle and reflective performance with a lovely feeling for line. In total contrast are Simpson’s boisterous Divisions in G for two bass viols which are performed with suitable panache until the calming arrival of peals of bells heralds its conclusion. Jenkins’ exquisite C major work ‘for 2 Division Viols to a Ground’ is included and benefits from the support of David Van Edward’s reconstruction of an English theorbo (based on Talbot and Mace) played by Lynda Sayce. Indeed charivari agréable have skilfully avoided the potential monotony of a CD devoted to grounds by occasionally interpolating another form, for example Hume’s Pavan, and using five different continuo instruments – the Ruckers harpsichord of 1623 has magnificent vitality and depth.

Lucy Robinson


Seventeenth-century English domestic music for solo viols is hard to bring off but Charivari Agreable welcome us into their private recreational world with full-bodied textures and a delightfully elegant dialogue between bass viols especially. Simpson – the esteemed division pedagogue – is treated to some confident and sensitive playing, but Lawes’s Pavan is the musical highpoint. A sunny disposition enhanced by an excellent recorded sound.

Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

The viol was a very popular instrument in 17th and 18th century England. Solo, in duos, in groups called consorts, and in a variety of combinations with other instruments. A great deal of music was written for the viol. Unlike other countries, such as France, a repertory very specific to its unique characteristics was developed. (In France, for example, a great deal of viol music was written, but it generally followed the standard forms used for other instruments.)

This delightful recording by Charivari Agreable presents a panorama of divisions, grounds and other pieces of music for viol. These works are for a small ensemble containing up to two viols with guitar or theorbo and chamber organ, spinet or harpsichord (as well as a few solo works for each of the instruments). The most important English composers of the period are featured here: Christopher Simpson, John Jenkins, Henry Purcell, Tobias Hume, William Lawes, Matthew Locke, and Thomas Tomkins, as well as one French composer, Ennemond Gaultier.

Divisions were a type of variation, where violists could show off their virtuosity. Several wonderful divisions are included on this disc, especially Jenkins’ Division in C, with its unforgettable melody that recalls Pachelbel’s famous canon. The two divisions by Christopher Simpson are lovely, lush works, with the characteristic lush viol sound, and the typical compositional style of this type of work – the melody is like a short verse of a song, and is played many times, in as many various ways as possible, its joyous air returning again and again, each time embellished differently.

The Sonata solo in G, by Godfrey Finger, is much closer to the French style of viol music. It is a sonata for solo treble viol and harpsichord, structurally similar to a sonata for violin and harpsichord. But it has that typical English sound, far removed from such French works as the suites by Marin Marais, and is played beautifully.

Both violists, Susanne Heinrich and Susanna Pell, get occasions to show off their solo playing. They each chose a work by Tobias Hume, one of the most original composers of the period, whose music has a unique sound, sometimes melancholy, as here, sometimes lively and energetic. The two Hume works are admirably played; these are pieces that all violists love to play, because of their inventiveness and expressiveness, and both pieces sound excellent here.

Lynda Sayce plays a solo piece on the English theorbo, a work by Ennemond Gaultier, which is very introspective. Harpsichordist Kah-Ming Ng gets his solo as well, playing three short pieces by Thomas Tomkins. This is a delight, as much for the music, his playing, and the beautiful-sounding Ruckers harpsichord used for the recording.

This is a beautiful program, showing a wide variety of works from this period, featuring viol music, but also with a few “extra” pieces to allow each musician to express themselves alone. Musically satisfying, performed excellently and recorded perfectly, this disc deserves the highest recommendation.

Kirk McElhearn

Lute Society Newsletter – March 1999

The music on this CD includes divisions by Simpson (who else!), Finger, Jenkins, two extraordinary pieces for solo viol for Hume, works by William Lawes, Locke et al., not forgetting Purcell’s eponymous ‘Charivari Agreable’. A track of particular interest, I thought, is Ennemond Gaultier’s ‘La Pompe Funebre’ which is played by Lynda Sayce with true authenticity on an English Theorbo made by David van Edwards. Since their formation in 1993 Charivari Agreable have become renowned for their ravishing sonorities and textures, and their distinctive interpretations embody careful and thorough researches into period performance practices. The music on this recording is extremely enjoyable, not only for listening pleasure but also from an academic point of view.

As a result of their studies into performance practice they have achieved an uncommon degree of musical authenticity which is a joy to hear. This is an innovative well-researched and delivered performance. Thoughtful and considered use and combination of instruments gives rise to a remarkable diversity of sounds. Needless to say the quality of the recorded sound is excellent.

For those amongst us with an interest in music for instruments other than those of the lute family this CD will make an important addition to their collection.

Richard Dixon

The Oxford Times – January 22, 1999

English Consort music of the 17th century has no thumping masterpieces that will ever make it a crowd-puller, but it if full of miniature gems, four-minute wonders, that reward the patient listener. Members of charivari agréable, the Oxford-based chamber group, have tracked through manuscripts in the Bodleian for many of the pieces which comprise Two upon a Ground, a delightful celebration of composing genius and playing virtuosity.

There are airs, pavanes and fantasias for such uncelebrated masters as William Lawes, Matthew Locke and Godfrey Finger, but the disc’s greatest glories are its ‘divisions’, a peculiarly English style of variations and improvisations for a broken consort of viols, guitar or theorbo and keyboard.

The great master of the division was Christopher Simpson (c.1605-1659), represented here by four sets, including two never before recorded. They start by stating the theme or ‘ground’ simply and then break it down into its parts, picking up and developing each, with plenty of scope for improvisation in a jazz-like fashion. The early restrained melody becomes bit by bit more lively as the ensemble demonstrates their mastery and imagination.

Charivari ensemble is made up of Susanne Heinrich and Susanna Pell on viols, Lynda Sayce on baroque guitar and English theorbo, and Kah-Ming Ng on chamber organ, spinet and harpsichord – the last two 17th-century originals.

Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain, Newsletter Number 104 – January 1999

It is frequently commented by viol players that their music is more fun for the performer than for the listener, an observation that may come true for all the wrong reasons. Whether or not composers intended this in consort music, they evidently did not do so in divisions. Simpson, the great exponent and taxonomist of divisions, makes no bones about it: “their purpose is that a Man might shew the dexterity and excellency of Hand and Invention to the Delight and Admiration of those that hear him. Not much introspection there. Seventeenth century England does not seem the most probably place for such swagger to flourish, but flourish it did, as this disc shows, from Tobias Hume in the early decades to Henry Purcell at the end.

I have no doubt that Susanne Heinrich and Susanna Pell had fun recording these pieces, but there is plenty left for the listener, by no means all of it merely admiration for their formidable virtuosity. There are several division sets by Jenkins and by Simpson himself, some previously unrecorded, displaying both types of ending noted by the latter, the Thundering String of Quick Division and the Strain of Slow and Sweet Notes. Perhaps the star track for me was Simpson’s Division in G, which instantly (and improbably) put me in mind of Monteverdi in warlike mode and ended affectingly with a dying fall; it must surely have had some kind of a la battaglia programme. Tomkins, Locke and Lawes are also represented; and Gottfried Finger, with two charming pieces one hopes might help to rescue him from being known to posterity chiefly as a sore loser in the 1700 opera competition.

There is much to interest students of keyboard and plucked instruments also. Linda Sayce plays an ‘English’ theorbo reconstructed from descriptions by Made; the pompe funebre chosen to display it is by the Frenchman Ennemond Gaultier ‘because of the popularity of his music in England’, perhaps an early example of British technology being exploited abroad. Kah-Ming Ng plays a Ruckers harpsichord of 1623, notably rich in tone, and an English bentside spinet of 1680.

If this sounds a little pedagogic, it is far from being so. I subjected the disc to the Sunday-morning-breakfast-coffee test, which it surmounted with ease. The range of instrumental combinations has enabled Charivari Agreable to put together an admirably varied recital. The sound quality is excellent, aside from a bothersome harmonic from the organ in the Lawes suite; the booklet is informative and concise; and the duration is an exceptionally generous 78 minutes. Since I am unlikely ever to hear this delightful music under my own fingers, I would very happily buy this disc.

Early Music Review – November 1998

With two of Early Music Review’s reviewers featured on this disc it is pleasing to be able to recommend it wholeheartedly. For a start, it is excellent value, with nearly 80 minutes of music. This music is well-known to and beloved of viol players, but will be of great interest to others: bass viol duets with organ, harpsichord, theorbo and guitar in various combinations by those great figures of English 17th century music, Jenkins, Simpson, Lawes. For viol players no more need be said – just buy it. It is all beautifully played, and I was particularly struck with the lovely fresh clean sound of the two bass viols. I would guess they play with non-metal wound gut bass strings. The balance between bass and treble registers is just right and both instruments , though quite distinct, share this quality. There’s more: solos for virginals by Tomkins, brilliantly played, a Gaultier Tombeau, beautiful on an original English Theorbo, a couple of Tobias Hume solos, some Purcell even and some Finger. In fact, if anything, there is too much. It is as though they are really making two recordings, and couldn’t quite make up their mind how to split them. But one needn’t listen to it all at once.

Robert Oliver

Viola da Gamba-Mitteilungen (Switzerland) Nr 32 – Nov/Dec 1998

…CA have approached the French repertory in an earlier production in a quite unconventional way and have come up (and were able to come up) with surprising sounds. Now the fun of playing music is truly felt -together with Susanna Pell – with pieces of English origin. Simpon?s Divisions for 2 bass viols open the CD justly/appropriately…

…This group?s joy of experimenting also copies the practices of their recorder playing colleagues, who very often incorporate pieces not written for their instrument into their repertory. Now they have to pay up. A version of Purcell?s Two in One upon a Ground from Dioclesian is played here – soundwise very satisfyingly- in two treble viols instead of 2 recorders…

…The solo Sonata by Finger, played here on a treble viol, is probably also originally for recorder. But the result of the new instrumentation is convincing. This is guaranteed by the fabulous playing by Susanne Heinrich and her perfect ensemble with Susanna Pell, which has despite headspinningly high notes and speeds hardly any weakness in intonation.

Precise articulation and clear phrasing result in lively + effortless playing. Here and there ornaments are applied in good taste. Generally speaking the fullbodied viol sound puts the listener into an extremely satisifed mood.

Sabine Weber

  1. Division in F – Christopher Simpson – 5.10
  2. Suite in G: Pavan – William Lawes – 6.36
  3. Suite in G: Ayre 1 – William Lawes – 1.28
  4. Suite in G: Ayre 2 – William Lawes – 2.27
  5. Prelude – Thomas Tomkins – 0.50
  6. What if a Day – Thomas Tomkins – 1.22
  7. Worster brawls – Thomas Tomkins – 2.16
  8. Pavan – Tobias Hume – 5.39
  9. Two in one upon a Ground – Henry Purcell – 3.43
  10. Loves farewell – Tobias Hume – 4.12
  11. Sonata solo in G – Godfrey Finger – 7.01
  12. Division in G – Christopher Simpson – 5.46
  13. Division in A – Christopher Simpson – 5.41
  14. Voluntary – Thomas Tomkins – 1.34
  15. Division in F – Christopher Simpson – 2.20
  16. Division in C – Godfrey Finger – 3.45
  17. Division in C – John Jenkins – 4.44
  18. La pompe funebre – Ennemond Gaultier – 4.58
  19. Fantazia – Matthew Locke – 1.42
  20. Courant – Matthew Locke – 1.25
  21. Division in A – John Jenkins – 4.59