Christopher Simpson’s The Four Seasons performed by Sirius Viols

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COMPOSERS: Christopher Simpson
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Simpson
WORKS: The Four Seasons
PERFORMER: Sirius Viols
CATALOGUE NO: 88875190982

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Well over half a century before Vivaldi published Le Quattro Stagioni, the 17th-century English composer Christopher Simpson wrote his own musical journey through the year, scored for the more intimate resources of three viols and continuo. A gamba virtuoso himself, Simpson also wrote a number of texts on contemporary viol playing techniques which were vital to the instrument’s 20th-century revival.

These beguiling, ever-changing works – swansongs of the viol repertory – have a pervasively wistful quality, entwining reflective fantasias with lithe dances and embroidered ‘divisions’ involving rapid flourishes over hypnotic ground basses – the 17th-century’s answer to jazz riffs, lending the music a real improvisatory quality.

Frauke Hess, Hille and Marthe Perl – the three Graces of the gamba world – balance eloquence and virtuosity here in a finely-judged equilibrium. Their sound is pellucid, ensemble and articulation flawless. The inventive continuo realisations paint the seasons’ variegated colours: the glittery, metal-strung cittern and bandora evoke autumnal frosts and icy winters; the resonant English theorbo and delicate guitar suggest verdant spring, while an airy chamber organ wafts soft summer breezes. Warmly recorded by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, the whole makes for a subtle yet sensuous odyssey through the cycle of the year.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.