Various: Music from Playford’s ‘The English Dancing Master’

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Nobody’s Jig
WORKS: Music from Playford’s ‘The English Dancing Master’
PERFORMER: Les Witches
CATALOGUE NO: 502 distr. (www.alpha-prod.com)
The folksy and fantastical tunes of John Playford’s The English Dancing Master (1651) were famous in their day, and they still attract gutsy groups such as the Broadside Band, the City Waits and the Dufay Collective. Les Witches, though, comes from the more sophisticated end of the market – not only in the musicians’ sensitivity to the many styles reflected in these marvellous melodies, but also in their attention to tuning and balance.

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None of this means that their performances are dull – far from it. Their versions of ‘Nobody’s Jig’ and ‘Wallom Green’ would be perfectly at home in an Irish ceilidh, and their arrangement of the Scottish dance ‘Hey to the Camp’, provides a magical tapestry of stunning instrumental effects. Occasionally there are misjudgements, as in the use of a tuneless, thuddy drum in ‘Prince Rupert’s March’, and they could have been slightly less inhibited in their use of countermelodies (‘Greensleeves’ would fit nicely alongside ‘Paul’s Steeple’, for example). But the harpsichord-playing in ‘A Health to Betty’ is meltingly delicate and reminds us that there is much more to Playford’s collection than the smirking rusticity conjured up by other groups in their endless renditions of ‘Johnny Cock Thy Beaver’. Anthony Pryer