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Maxine Eilander (harp); Les Voix humaines
The eleven consorts by William Lawes (1602-45) for harp, bass, viola de gamba, violin and theorbo are known collectively as “The Harp Consorts”. Written during the time of the English Civil War this period in history not only put an end to the brilliant circle of artists and musicians assembled at the court of Charles l, for which these works were conceived, it also ended the lives of Charles and of Lawes himself, at the siege of Chester in 1645.
This is the first complete recording of Lawes’ Harp Consorts.
What a completely delightful recording this is. I’m already a sucker for music from 17th-century England, but this CD makes my Desert Island list for sure. Likely the only extant early ensemble music to feature the harp, these unique pieces “for the Harp, Bass Violl, Violin and Theorbo” attest to the genius of William Lawes (1602-45), one of 17th-century England’s brightest musical lights, and they receive an inspiring performance here. The repertoire includes a fantasy, six sets of stylized dance pieces, three pavens with pre-composed divisions, and a stand-alone aire. The CD ends with a duo for harp and theorbo, some icing on the proverbial cake.
From the sweetly effortless G major Paven and divisions which open the program to the final consort set of dance movements, the balance of melodic expressiveness, contrapuntal expertise and rhythmic vigour of Lawes’ writing is expertly and affectionately handled. Maxine Eilander’s triple harp playing is imaginative and beautiful, whether supporting the ensemble harmonically or acting in a more soloistic capacity, and the theorbo playing of Stephen Stubbs is exemplary. (Thanks go to him as well for the excellent and thought-provoking booklet notes.) Margaret Little and Susie Napper take expert turns navigating the demanding divisions in the bass viol parts, and it’s very interesting to hear them individually instead of in their usual duo formation. David Greenberg’s judgement and rendition of what’s needed in the violin part, from delicate tenderness to rousing fire, is right on the money.
This CD will be on regular rotation in our house. If you buy only one CD of 17th-century English chamber music, make it this one.
Reviewed by Alison Melville. Reprinted from The Wholenote Magazine (www.thewholenote.com), Nov. 2008.