Gibbons: Music for Viols, Vol. 1

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Gibbons
LABELS: Metronome
WORKS: Music for Viols, Vol. 1
PERFORMER: Concordia
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1033
Gibbons is remarkably under-represented on record. Here, for instance, is the only complete performance currently available of all nine Fantazies of III Parts of 1621, wonderfully crafted pieces, ostensibly old-fashioned in the purity of their counterpoint, yet modern and purposeful in harmonic organisation and direction. They are uncompromisingly minor or full of minor inflections, creating a hauntingly wistful mood, yet with moments of dancing relief. The Concordia violists perform them superbly, responsive to each other and matching expressively every nuance of melodic pattern and emotion.

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Six more fantasias include the ‘Great Dooble Base’, creating a span of pitch – over four octaves at times – which throws Gibbons’s contrapuntal dexterity into high relief. The music is more fanciful here, at times earthy tunes, elsewhere wandering through mists of slow, eerie harmony, reflecting (as does the playing) Gibbons’s strongly Romantic streak.

For reasons justified in an inspired booklet note, the more ‘Ayrey, Jocund, Lively and Spruce’ pieces are accompanied by harpsichord which, to my initial surprise, reconciles perfectly the archaic polyphony with its Baroque context.

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A glorious acoustic embraces the sound without smothering it. In all, an outstanding start to a much-needed reappraisal of one of the brightest stars in the firmament of English music. George Pratt