LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: 17th-century English ballads and dances
PERFORMER: Ellen Hargis (soprano), Paul O’Dette (lute, cittern)The King’s Noyse/David Douglass
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907180
Many of the pieces on this disc survive only as traditional ballad melodies. Douglass has added lower parts and his ensemble of Renaissance violins elaborate them further in improvisation. Polished recording inevitably militates against true spontaneity, but much immediacy remains in spirit, and in technique: violins resting low on arms generate a relaxed bow-stroke which audibly invites dance and reflects the informality of folksong.
Some pieces are more sophisticated: Byrd’s Preludium is a masterpiece of variation over a repeating ground; John Baldwin’s ‘Coockow’ bubbles with witty rhythms; the familiar ‘Browning’ melody passes inventively round the whole ensemble. Ellen Hargis matches the authentic strings’ sound with carefully researched dialect, which makes sense of rhythms and which is, above all, charming to the ear. George Pratt