Tickle The Minikin

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COMPOSERS: Coleman,Esto,Ives,Jenkins,Mace,Steffkins
LABELS: Resonus
ALBUM TITLE: Tickle The Minikin
WORKS: 17th-century lyra viol music by Jenkins, Mace, Esto, Steffkins, Ives and Coleman
PERFORMER: Robert Smith (viola da gamba)


This beguiling trove of pieces comes from a mysterious 17th-century manuscript which, judging from the quality and intricacy of the music, must have belonged to a skilled and discerning player of the lyra viol. Essentially a bass viol with a flatter bridge to facilitate chordal playing, this arcane instrument is a wonderfully versatile one-man-band with myriad playing techniques, musical styles, and chameleon tunings that imitate the harp or lute, bandora or bagpipes. An eloquent companion for long, lonely evenings, the lyra viol could sing and dance, converse and reflect, sparkle and lament. 

The anthology includes works by popular viol composers John Jenkins and Thomas Mace alongside neglected names such as John Esto and Dietrich Steffkins. Suites of dances, both elegant and folksy, give way to plaintive airs and evocatively named character pieces with exotic tunings: Kate of Hardie, Piggies of Rumsey and Lancashire Pipes, complete with bagpipe drone effects. Such a gamut of styles demands terrific flexibility, and Robert Smith is an outstanding interpreter, casting eloquent melodies and long-breathed contrapuntal lines. The airy acoustic captures the resonance of his instrument in a recording that delights and surprises.


Kate Bolton