The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
Signum Classics SIGCD009
BBC Music Magazine
Recording quality is superb, alive to the scrape of bows on strings, the snap of fingering, yet never oppressively close. The ensemble's variety is endless: tenor viol plays a recurring melody at three registers, bathed in organ polyphony; tenor Rupert Jennings sings the original song texts above the new instrumental variations (requiring the recomposition of missing bars); Bull's cerebral fantasia on 17 transpositions of a scale takes on new life as viols clarify the counterpoint – especially effective with violin ingeniously matched with treble viol – while his King's Hunt is positively orchestrated with dramatic silence and extended flute trills.
Outstanding in every respect. This is an inspired concept, played with the exuberance and commitment which presupposes technical mastery of the highest order.
Viola da Gamba Society of America
If you are adverse to early music groups playing arrangements, perhaps you should read no further, but then on the other hand, perhaps you really should! Charivari Agréable's forte is playing very carefully researched arrangements, and certainly following historical practice in which it was popular for a composer to make a setting of another's piece, long before the days of copyright lawyers! … Particularly enchanting on this CD were the violin divisions in Farnaby's Daphne. Also special were the gutsy King's Hunt (Bull) and Gipseis Round (Byrd). These two were done with the full ensemble, and it's fun to follow the keyboard score and see what clever things were done texture-wise in the scoring. Byrd's Rowland divisions make a wonderful duet for two bass viols and are admirably played by Susanne Heinrich & Susanna Pell. There is also a handful of non-English pieces of which Sweelinck's Praeludium Toccata is an outstanding duet … performed ravishingly by S. Heinrich and Lynda Sayce.
What a wonderfully varied resource the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is! The romantic notion of it being copied by Francis Tregian while incarcerated in the Fleet prison may now be disputed, but he certainly had access to music of the highest quality, since most of the great Jacobean keyboard composers are included: Byrd, Bull, Farnaby, Gibbons and Philips. However, not a single track here is played on the virginals, since the music has been given the Charivari Agréable treatment and been arranged for a variety of instrumental ensembles typical of the time. These range from solo lute to a colourful broken consort of flute, violin, viols, cittern and harpsichord. This is often effective, since much of the music in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book depends for its success on the creativity brought by performers to its sometimes formulaic decorations, such as Byrd's Walsingham variations …The solo lute version of Gibbons's majestic The Lord of Salisbury his Pavan has a stylish poise and clarity of part-playing that would be hard to equal on the less flexible virginals, while the plangent tone and brisk attack of lyra viols provide a highly convincing approach to Byrd's Rowland.
Even more captivating is the FwVB, a variety of 16th-century music performed in a virtuoso way by the Charivari Agréable ensemble, whose members manage to ignite our musical imagination with their brilliant performances of these British selections, some by William Byrd, others by anonymous or lesser-known composers.
These are transcriptions. Since I love the keyboard idiom in the Fitzwilliam, it was at first hard for me to imagine a translation to a new medium. But after hearing those incredibly difficult passages in Byrd's 'Walsingham' whip by at a speed unthinkable on the harpsichord (with the possible exception of Pierre Hantai], I was convinced. The noble and gentle viol seems to be a remarkably adaptable instrument.
Kah-Ming Ng, of Charivari Agreable (a group formed at Oxford University in 1993), did all the transcriptions, and he certainly picked some beauties. The two seven-course lutes playing Farnaby's 'Loth to depart' are pure magic, for example. And I'll even argue that some of the pieces work better in consort arrangements anyway: the counterpoint in Bull's masterly fantasia 'Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la' makes a powerful impact on viols. A special treat is the sudden appearance of a human voice in the pieces that refer to sung texts--Morley's 'O Mistress Myne' (as arranged by Byrd), Farnaby's 'Daphne,' and Caccini's 'Amarilli' (arranged by Peter Philips). Rupert Jennings's supple, unobtrusive tenor fits the homogenous blend of the broken consort perfectly.
W Byrd: Walsingham, Pavana & Galiarda, Rowland, Gipseis Round; G Farnaby: Loth to depart, Lord Zouches Mask, Daphne, Up Tails All; T Morley: O Mystress Mine; J Bull: Ut re mi, The Kingùs Hunt; W Inglott: The Leaves bee greene; M Peerson: The Fall of the leafe; O Gibbons: Lord of Salisbury his Pavan; Anon: Alman; JP Sweelinck: Praeludium Toccata; P Philips: Amarilli
Rupert Jennings - tenor; Oliver Webber - baroque violin; Susanne Heinrich, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise - viols; Lynda Sayce - lute; Jacob Heringman - cittern; Kah-Ming Ng - harpsichord & chamber organ