Garden of Early Delights - Pamela Thorby & Andrew Lawrence-King - MusicWeb-International

This is a delicious disk, full of the most interesting and unusual things. It's a tribute to the two players that such a fascinating and varied recital could be planned for it seems to be quite a miracle that the music has survived for information on many of the composers is so scant. 

Just imagine that you write a great set of madrigals, they're published but in 400 years no-one really knows where or when you were born and died, and were it not for that solitary publication nobody, today, would have heard of you. So it is with some of these composers. I did a little research on each of the composers represented on this disk and the phrase which occurred in almost every source I consulted was "very little is known about his life". 

Despite our lack of knowledge, we do have the music - and what we have here is glorious in its variety, and to make the recital even more interesting there are solo pieces interspersed with the duo works. 

So what of this music? Ortiz was Spanish by birth and there is a real Spanish feel to his music. He published two books of music: Tratado de Glosas in 1553 and Musices liber primus in 1565. The three works in this collection all come from the first book.  

Recercada No.2 is a very jolly dance, requiring some virtuosity on the part of the recorder player, while Recercada segunda de canto Ilano, a stately piece, and Recercada prima sobre doulce mémoire a movement of grave nobility are for psaltry alone. 

Jacob van Eyck was Dutch and, amongst his many accomplishments, he was a virtuoso recorder player. Der Fluyten Lust-hof (The Flute's Garden of Delights, or perhaps, Pleasure Garden) is a collection of pieces - folk songs, dance tunes and contemporary songs - for soprano recorder which rerquire some dexterity from the player. Derde, Doen Daphne d'over is a particularly beautiful lament for the solo instrument, Amarilli Mia Bella is an arrangement for recorder and psaltery of a piece by Giulio Caccini and van Eyck's other two pieces are up-tempo dance numbers.

There are absolutely no biographical details whatsoever about Dario Castello. Did he work at St Mark's in Venice when Monteverdi was maestro di capella? It's thought that he might have died in the great plague of 1630 for he published no music after that date. Only 29 compositions survive and this Sonata Seconda is a very challenging work for the players, written in a variety of contrasting sections.

We probably know about the life of John Dowland than of most of the other composers here, but there are still gaps in our knowledge of him. There is a special melancholy in Dowland's music and the two songs presented here, and played by solo psaltery, are full of that wistfulness.

Johann Schop is a totally new name to me. In 1756 Leopold Mozart made comment on the difficulty of a trill in one of Schop's works! This Lachrime Pavaen is one of the most serious compositions on this disk and it has a depth of feeling which goes far beyond the mere few minutes playing time.

Giovanni Bassano was a cornettist employed from 1576 in various posts at St Mark's, Venice, including, from 1601, conductor of the orchestra. His 1591 he published a collection of ornamented versions of motets and madrigals by leading composers such as Palestrina, Lassus and Rore. His two works heard here are alternately slow and reflective and dance-like - the Divisions on Frais et Gaillard makes a fabulously joyous conclusion to the whole recital.

Giovanni Battista Fontana is known solely for one, posthumous, publication which consists of six sonatas for violin and bass and six more for two violins and bass. A note states that he came from Brescia and worked in various cities in Italy, but that seems to be the sum of our knowledge of him. The Sonatas in this publication contain some of the earliest works in that form, and the bass is more independent than was usual for that time. They are designed to be played by many different combinations and these Sonatas work very well for recorder and chitarrone. The Sonata sesta is a lighter work than its companion, the Sonata Seconda, which contains a particularly striking dance section in the middle. 

Biagio Marini was a virtuoso violinist and his compositions were published and known throughout the European musical world. He traveled throughout his life, and occupied many posts in Europe. It seems that he married three times and had five children. As befits a virtuoso of the violin his works contirbuted to the development of string playing by expanding the repertoire of both solo and accompanied violin and incorporating the slur, double and triple stopping. He used the very first notated tremolando in his music. Sadly none of this is in evidence in his Passacalio which is another stately processional. 

This is a fascinating and most enjoyable recital of music which, under normal circumstances, I would have ignored. It is easy to forget just what a wealth and variety of music was being created during the 150 years before the birth of J S Bach and we are to be grateful to Pamela Thorby, Andrew Lawrence-King and Linn Records for bringing this work to our attention. I am saddened that there is only one solo for the recorder, when there are several for the harp and psaltery but I must not carp, this is a sheer delight. Andrew Lawrence-King's essay in the booklet is fascinating and the recording is bright and clear, but with little reverberation, and an astonishing dynamic range.

26 November 2008