Modus Phantasticus

Signum Classics SIGCD041

The Observer

Never quite as melancholic a country as England, early-baroque Germany did not boast as moody a solo viol tradition, preferring the flashier worlds of the violin and keyboard. But an influx of elite English violists in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries changed all that. Bach, Schütz, Pachelbel, Telemann and Fux: all wrote music either specifically for the

viol, or adaptable to its luxuriant purposes, from the sepulchral to the orgasmic. These are represented in period and modern arrangements, chosen for their historic interest and for their unique beauties by one of the classiest baroque bands.

Anthony Holden

The Consort vol. lx

As a group, Charivari Agréable have managed to successfully avoid being a viol consort; they are more a viol-and-continuo-based group, whose numbers can expand from the basic core of Susanne Heinrich, Kah-Ming Ng and Lynda Sace to include extra viols, violins, wind instruments and singers, and thus have the scope for a widely varied repertoire. Their programmes, both live and on disc, reflect this; they are generally not so much themed as story-based often directed towards a particular occasion, historical or present-day. In many ways, this makes sense, particularly in the medium of consort music, an abstract and introverted art-form that was not designed for public performance. The group's recordings often steer towards music slightly out of the normal viol repertoire, and this disc is no exception.

It is a foray into the German baroque, exploring the viol compositions that exist, and also arranging vocal and instrumental music to fit the combination of viols and continue. Arrangements form an important part of Charivari Agreable's repertoire; previous discs include instrumental arrangements of music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and orchestral transcriptions of the viol suites of J.B.A. Forqueray. However one views such a practice from a historical point of view, the group aims to bring the music to life using a rhetorically effective combination of instruments, reminding us that what musicians do is ultimately an art of performance, not of documentation.

Central to the ideology of the disc is the use of stylus phantasticus, a rhapsodic style of viol playing associated more with the violin. The sleeve-notes explain the position of the viol as a church instrument, representing mortality and the supernatural. This became so important in the lamento tradition, and for composers such as Schutz, that its sound often came to dominate the texture. It is this textural association that is obviously intended in the opening and closing tracks, both arrangements from

J. S. Bach's Orgel-buchlein. The calm harmonic flow and blend of the independent lines make this perfect viol music, and give an effect that is beautifully Lutheran and otherworldly. The playing in all of the Bach transcriptions (there are four on the disc) is stunning - smooth, calm, and sonorous, yet with a fall awareness of individual line and harmonic structure. Opening and closing with these transcriptions puts the disc into the church mode; this is interrupted in the second track, also an Orgel-buchlein transcription, but of the more upbeat In dir ist Freude, BWV 615. This is presumably our first example of stylus phantasticus playing, and it is given a wonderfully spirited and exuberant performance. The next track is by Schutz; not from his viol music, however, but an arrangement of the madrigal Feritevi, ferite, SWV 9. We now move to both the lesser known composers, and to original German viol writing. The one surviving work of the apparently alcoholic and criminal virtuoso violist

David Funck, the Stricturae Viola di Gambicae (1677), is written for four bass viols and makes great use of this distinctive sonority, employing a wide variety of ranges between the four instruments, and a skilled use of counterpoint. The other German style of viol playing was that of the Dutch-German virtuoso school, which is represented here by Davidt Adam

Baudringer's Sonata in B-flat major for solo viol and continuo. The remaining viol pieces are both transcriptions.

Kah-Ming Ng's solo contribution takes the form of two chaconnes, Pachelbel's Ciaccona in F minor, with its expressive descending ground bass, and Georg Boehm's Chaconne in G major, on the familiar major chaconne bass. The playing is

eloquent and crisp in both cases, and the sound of the solo harpsichord provides a refreshing interlude from the thick viol-and-continuo texture of much of the disc. The Bohm Chaconne is given a spirited and humorous performance, while the building tension and virtuosity of the Pachelbel is almost Sturm und Drang in its expressiveness.

The viol playing throughout the disc is alternately deeply sonorous and brightly articulate and the continue, although sensitive, has the depth required by this music. It is interesting that some of the most effective performances - of the Schutz madrigal and the Bach transcriptions, for example, - are not of original viol music, and that it is in the real viol music that the texture can become a little too dark and the musical effect less inspiring. Perhaps this is due, ultimately, to the prowess of Bach and

Schutz over such composers as Kuhnel and Schenk, and to the fact that their music is ultimately more inspiring to play. Overall, however, this is a disc of ravishing sounds and expressive playing, and some beautiful pieces of music.

Caroline Ritchie

The Strad

Charivari Agréable and guests, inspired by the German tradition of transcription, offer an engaging musical experience, their programme combining modern and period arrangements with original instruments.The group's core members, Susanne Heinrich and Lynda Sayce, accompanied by Kah-Ming Ng, play Baudringer's Sonata in B flat major with style, expression and virtuosity … Susanna Pell partners Heinrich and Ng in Kühnel's E minor Sonata à deux, revelling in its two aria sections and

central Adagio, while the whole company masters the varied styles and techniques of Funck's Stricturae viola di gambicae (1677), particularly in the Sarabande's variations and the Gigue. Ng's account of Pachelbel's F-minor Ciaconna radiates empathy with the idiom. The solitary period arrangement, an anonymous transcription of Schenck's Viol Sonata op. 2 no. 4, is convincingly conveyed … Heinrich's stylish treble sound stands out in her four-viol arrangement of Bach's chorale prelude 'Erbarm dich' BWV721 and Telemann's Concerto in A major for four violins, though transcribed down a tone for viols, still displays its composer's colourful sonorities and inventive musical discourse in this accomplished reading. Accounts of effective arrangement's of Fux's Ciaconna in G major and various pieces from Bach's Orgelbüchlein complete this fascinating programme.

The recorded sound has commendable presence, clarity of detail and bloom, and the overall balance is exemplary.

Robin Stowell

Goldberg vol. xxvi

Unlike England or France, Germany never established a solo viol tradition, relying rather on the consort style that flourished on the other side of the Rhine, a style dominated by a delight in evocations of death, the hereafter and the supernatural. This Stylus or Modus Phantasticus was to last all the way down to the eighteenth century (or nearly), forming a full-blown repertoire based on transcriptions of vocal or instrumental pieces for a consort of viols (with the Renaissance madrigal serving as its archetype).

In broaching this sphere of the strange, the intuitions of Charivari Agréable are always captivating for the listener. Among others, Susanne Heinrich brings her versatile talents into play, ranging from the pardessus de viole to the French 7-string bass viol. From the outset she takes centre-stage—as regards affects and atmosphere—in the recording, with its arrangement of the Bach chorale Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott BWV 721, conjuring up a striking landscape of the soul, a religious, funereal vision that plunges us into the mystery of sound and the secret of things. And her partners are on a par with her, particularly Kah-Ming Ng, an outstanding strategist on the harpsichord and the organ (superb reading of the chaconnes by Pachelbel and Böhm), and a sagacious continuo player in several pieces. Enough said, this journey into the Fantastic, far from being a chimera, is a perfectly accomplished recording in terms of its results, one in which the images that fire our imagination are underpinned everywhere by unflagging expertise.

Le décor est venu d'Allemagne, pays où n'a jamais existé la tradition de la viole seule, contrairement à l'Angleterre et à la France. Aux mains de petits ensembles qui ne faisaient pas de la virtuosité une fin en soi, un style collectif a alors fleuri Outre-Rhin, dans le précieux jardin de la viole, se complaisant dans l'évocation de la mort, de l'au-delà, du surnaturel.

Ce Stylus ou Modus Phantasticus va ainsi perdurer jusqu'au cœur du XVIIIème siècle (ou presque), qui bâtit tout un répertoire sur la transcription de pièces vocales ou instrumentales pour le « concert » des violes (le madrigal Renaissance fait ici figure d'archétype).

Confrontées à cet univers de l'étrange, les intuitions de Charivari Agréable sont toujours captivantes, en termes d'écoute. Suzanne Heinrich y déploie, entre autres, un talent polyvalent, du pardessus de viole à la basse de viole française à 7 cordes. D'entrée, elle signe la « vitrine » - côté affects et atmosphère - de l'album : cet arrangement du choral de Bach Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott, BWV 721, qui déroule un impressionnant paysage de l'âme, une vision religieuse et funèbre qui nous plonge dans le mystère des sons et le secret des choses. Mais ses partenaires la valent bien, en particulier Kah-Ming-Ng, stratège émérite au clavecin et à l'orgue (superbes lectures des Chaconnes de Pachelbel et Böhm) et continuiste avisé

dans plusieurs pièces. N'en disons pas plus : ce voyage dans le Fantastique n'est pas une chimère, mais un disque parfaitement abouti dans son résultat ; les images qui y font rêver étant de bout en bout confortées par un savoir-faire imparable.

Roger Tellart


Perhaps mainly for viol aficionados but this ensemble's enthusiasm is delightful.”

The Oxford-based Charivari Agréable here present a collection that explores music for viols originating in 17th- and early 18th-century Germany. Approximately half of the works—the Bach pieces, the Fux and the Schütz—are arrangements prepared by ensemble members Susanne Heinrich and Kah-Ming Ng: the four Bach arrangements are particularly appealing. Some of the

stylishly played music by less familiar composers such as Funck, Schenck and Fux represent worthy works that make a less memorable impression than the emotional warmth and melodic richness of Bach's Das alte Jahr vergangen ist.

Similarly, the viol transcriptions of Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott and Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier bookend the recital with sublime moments. The cleverly balanced programme avoids potential monotony by inserting harpsichord solos by Pachelbel and Böhm, both brilliantly played by Kah-Ming Ng. The viols and continuo of Charivari Agréable are impressive, and

elements such as intonation, synchronisation and balance are a constant delight. Generally speaking, the livelier dance movements appropriately veer towards being energised and mildly abrasive, but the sweeter music with rich expressive potential occasionally inclines towards dryness. One notable exception to both rules is an amiable performance of Hesse's

charming Paysan en Rondeau. Ng's illuminating essay shares diverting information on each of the featured composers, and complements a disc that is unfailingly erudite and carefully produced. The closely recorded sound has a pleasant yet discreet

bloom on the viols. Although the overall product will most likely appeal to hardcore viol aficionados, there is much to enjoy here.

David Vickers

The Telegraph

At the very beginning of the early instrument revival, before the First World War, it was not uncommon for viols to be used in contexts that would now seem ludicrously inappropriate – accompanying a harpsichord in a Mozart piano concerto, for example. But though that was undoubtedly going too far, this remarkably interesting and attractive selection of 17th- and

18th-century pieces, not all of which were originally intended for viols, proves that the instrument has real expressive powers and can make an excellent showing in music far removed from the traditional consort repertoire.

These expressive qualities are heard to best advantage in arrangements of four Bach chorale preludes, of which Erbarm dich mein is particularly beautiful, but even the transcription of Telemann's four-violin concerto for viols da gamba comes over as perfectly convincing, once the listener's initial surprise wears off. Charivari Agréable's playing is of the highest order both in these ensemble pieces and in the solos, including a charming rustic rondo by Ernst Christian Hesse, which complete this delightful programme.

Elizabeth Roche

CD (and DVD) Journal (Japan), November 2003

Three players in six, including the leader Mr. Ng, of the ensemble Charivari Agreable are from far East, while they are based in Oxford, truly as a British group. As is usual of their programme, the new disc "Modus Phantasticus" also contains challenging repertoires: thanks to them, such variety of pieces for viol from the later baroque come into light from the shade of more renowned German heritage of violin music in the same age, those of Biber, or Pisendel, for example. Their execution, which differs from the traditional neatness typical of English early music players, is very suitable to finish these works, which are cornerstones of the history of music, in the term that Charivari Agreable's characteristic sound like multipy-superposed delicacies nicely works to clarify such unforgettable fragility, destined for those unstable pieces. More works executed in this way is absolutely desired. Tats'o Sch'rasawa


CD of the week: Baroque music for strings

Unlike in England and France, the viol never really flourished in German music. The sonorous and somewhat nasal sound of the viol consort apparently somehow interfered with German musical taste. Germans preferred violin-based consorts.

Still, the viol was not completely silent in Germany. Composers such as Schütz, Buxtehude, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach did employ viols in order to establish certain „special” sound effects in their music. Moreover, a small repertoire for viol consort developed at the end of the 16th century, inspired by English viol composers.

These developments have been exemplified by the English consort Charivari Agréable on their latest CD. The work contains some fine, but rarely-performed pieces, among which a ravishing concert for four viols by Telemann, as well as some transcriptions that definitely contribute to the repertoire. The CD gives a good overview of the position and function of the

viol consort in German baroque music. Whether consorts in those days performed the music to the same degree of perfection as the Charivaris remains uncertain. Particularly noteworthy are J.S. Bach's „Erbarm dich”‚ and David Funck's Suite in D-major.

CD van de week: Barokmuziek voor strijkers

Anders dan bijvoorbeeld in Engeland en Frankrijk het geval was ging de grote bloeiperiode van de gamba grotendeels aan Duitsland voorbij. De kenmerkende sonore en wat nasale samenklank van een gambaconsort paste niet zo in klankideaal van onze Oosterburen. Zij gaven eerder en duidelijker voorkeur aan ensembles van strijkinstrumenten uit de violenfamilie.

Toch is de gamba niet geheel aan Duitsland voorbij gegaan. Componisten als Schütz, Buxtehude en Johann Sebastian en Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach hebben gamba's in hun werken toegepast om bepaalde kleuren en effecten te bewerkstelligen. Verder ontstond er onder invloed van Engelse gambisten vanaf het eind van de 16e eeuw een bescheiden repertoire voor Gamba-consort.

Het Engelse ensemble Charivari Agréable heeft deze ontwikkeling op CD "in kaart gebracht". Dat heeft een CD met enkele prachtige, maar zelden of nooit gespeelde werken opgeleverd, waaronder een schitterend concert voor vier gamba's van Telemann. Daarnaast heeft het ensemble enkele bewerkingen en transposities opgenomen die een duidelijk toegevoegde waarde hebben. Het geheel geeft een mooi beeld van het functioneren van een gambaconsort in de Duitse barok. Of een consort uit die tijd met dezelfde graad van perfectie zou hebben gespeeld als de Charivari's nu is overigens maar de vraag.

Luister hieronder naar zowel J.S. Bachs 'Erbarm dich' en David Funcks Suite in D-groot.

The Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain, Newsletter no. 123

A CD of viol music based largely on transcriptions of music for other instruments sounds like a recipe for disaster – but this recent CD by Charivari Agréable is a wonderful surprise. The three regular members of the ensemble (Susanne Heinrich viols, Kah-Ming Ng chamber organ/harpsichord, and Lynda Sayce theorbo/baroque lute/baroque guitar) are joined on this occasion

by Reiko Ichise bass viol, Asako Morikawa bass viol, and Susanna Pell viols. Together they play a variety of music by German composers of the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries, and 14 of the 20 pieces are transcriptions or arrangements. This might suggest a rather contrived collection of works, but they all sound remarkably natural and convincing, and lovers of the

music of JS Bach who also like the tone colour of the viol are in for a treat.

The playing is simply superb; everything sounds easy, but never flashy. The highly expressive playing in Bach's Erbarm dich mein which opens the CD is never overstated, and provides a complete contrast to the lively, energetic style of In Dir ist Freude which follows. Schütz is represented by a transcription of his madrigal Feritevi, ferite for four viols, theorbo and harpsichord, and Funck (see the CD notes for a brief account of his troubled life) by his suite … for four bass viols, guitar and harpsichord. Three ground basses are included in this compilation: Pachelbel's Ciaccona in F minor, and Böhm's Chaconne in G major (listen out for that fantastic harmonic surprise) are both played on the harpsichord, but Fux's Ciaconna in G major with its mournful, falling phrases is arranged brilliantly for four viols, theorbo and harpsichord. Another inspired transcription is Telemann's Concerto for four violins without basso continuo. This sounds completely natural on four bass viols, the lively playfulness of the second movement providing the perfect foil to the third movement's beautiful lament with its throbbing bass line. Virtuosity and musicality are combined in equal measure in Susanne Heinrich's performance of Baudringer's exquisite Sonata in B flat major.

For sheer variety of tone colour the Paÿsan en Rondeau by Hesse (performed as first conceived on bass viol, theorbo and a wonderfully 'chiffy' chamber organ) is surely one of the highlights of this disc. It is played with a delicate and poised elegance, showing off both higher and lower registers of the viol, and with its sparse texture makes a good contrast to the luxuriant qualities of several of the other pieces. Schecnk's Sonata IV in A minor from Tyd en konst-oeffeningen is transcribed for three bass viols and theorbo and chamber organ, and offers some beautiful dark passages in the slower sections. Great agility is required for Kühnel's Sonata à 2 in E minor, where the two bass viols are supported by harpsichord continuo, and the quick playing is handled with true delicacy. The CD is completed with two more chorale preludes by Bach: the sombre Das alte Jahr, with its rising (and later falling) semitones, is sensitive without a trace of sentimentality, the individual lines far more easily audible than when played on the organ; and Liebster Jesu almost dances along, the viols bringing out the extraordinary inner parts at the cadences.

Kah-Ming Ng's highly informative and entertaining programme notes, together with full biographical details and list of instruments, make for a fully comprehensive CD booklet. There will, no doubt, be many visits to the Charivari website by those wishing to play this music themselves.

Carol Pusey

Oxford Times

Don't let the rather academic title Modus Phantasticus put you off. The new CD (Signum SIGCD041) from the Oxford group Charivari Agréable contains much that is far from being dry as dust. Charivari bases itself on the many members of the viol family, ranging from the treble to the seven-stringed bass viol, plus harpsichord, organ, lute, guitar and theorbo. The three permanent members of the group, Susanne Heinrich, Kah-Ming Ng, and Lynda Sayce, are here augmented by Reiko Ichise,

Asako Morikawa, and Susanna Pell.

Arrangements of music by J.S. Bach top and tail the disc, with several of Bach's contemporaries providing the meat in the sandwich. There are well known names: Pachelbel contributes a most attractive Ciaccona for solo harpsichord. But how much do you know of Funck, Fux and Schenck? Talking to Charivari leader Kah-Ming Ng for The Oxford Times a couple of months ago, his enthusiasm for unusual programme building shone through. He has a ball here — and is it entirely coincidental that two of the most invigorating pieces are by composers (Hesse and Funck) who, the comprehensive sleeve notes tell us, led distinctly colourful private lives? Admittedly Kah-Ming slightly shoots himself in the foot by beginning with Bach's Erbarm dich mein (BWV 721), thereby demonstrating in five seconds flat why Johann Sebastian stood head and shoulders above all around

him, but Charivari's sheer musicality makes a great case for the other many and varied tracks on this CD.

Giles Woodforde

3MBS FM, Melbourne

… these arrangements go beyond merely extending an available repertoire or recreating the spirit of the age, they allow us to hear things in the music we may otherwise miss … as soon as I listened to it, I thought 'that really does work'. It's amazing: it has certainly convinced me. This new disc is a real winner. I absolutely loved it. It's 75 minutes of glorious music, and when it finished, I listened to the whole thing all over again — I can't recommend it anymore than that.

Mark Shepheard

Viola da Gamba Mitteilungen June 2005

With regards to the production and execution of arrangements, viol ensembles tend to remain in the background, as opposed to saxophone quartets, flute sextets or cello octets. But there are no historical reasons for such a self-inflicted restriction of only performing music originally intended for viols. In the heyday of viol playing, there were countless arrangements of vocal and instrumental pieces, mostly intended for domestic use. Often a possible arrangement for viol consort was recommended in the title page of a collection of keyboard works.

Charivari Agreable's CD entitled Modus Phantasticus consists of a number of arrangements, of which some are created by the group itself. Both arrangements as well as original works are gems, and the standard of the group's playing is so high that the result is simply sensational.

The arrangements of Bach's organ pieces and preludes work extremely well, causing the risk that even viol purists might be infected by consort fever. My top favourites are In dir ist Freude BWV 615 and Das alte Jahr vergangen ist BWV 614. Some would perhaps prefer to hear the concerto for 4 violins by Telemann in the original version, but the transcription for viols exudes a special exotic flair. Telemann's texture is so viol-friendly that at no point does one get the impression that the piece was arranged at all.

Apart from polyphonic discoveries there are also soloistic highlights of extraordinary quality. After the cantus firmus in the 1 st pieceErbarm Dich mein BWV 721 the ear is drawn to Baudringer's Sonata and the pop-like Paysan en Rondeau by Hesse. After some searching in the booklet for the identity of a particularly expressive and virtuosic, even heavenly, player, the question is answered: Susanne Heinrich.

Of definite musical worth and also excellently performed are the suite from Stricturae Viola di Gambicae by Funck and an authentic arrangement of a solo sonata by Schenck for 2 viols and b.c., arranged by a London apothecary, thus making the difficult, but obviously popular piece manageable for amateurs. A welcome change in sound and instrumentation comes from two keyboard pieces by Pachelbel and Böhm. The most difficult part for the excellent musicians was obviously to put the varied 'menu dégustation' into a convincing order.

Altogether this CD is an excellent advertisement for the endless possibilities the viol has as regards expressiveness and flexibility, and for the 'phantastic' German polyphony. Be warned against serious addiction!

Martin Zeller


JS Bach: Erbarm dich, In Dir ist Freude, Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, Liebster jesu; Schütz: Feritevi; Funck: Suite in D major; Baudringer: Sonata in B flat major; Pachelbel: Ciaccona in F minor; Telemann: Concerto for 4 violins; Hesse: Paysan en Rondeau; Kühnel: Sonata a 2; Böhm: Chaconne in G major; Schenck: Sonata op 2/4 in a minor; Fux: Ciaconna in G major

Susanne Heinrich, Asako Morikawa, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise - viols; Lynda Sayce - theorbo & baroque guitar; Kah-Ming Ng - harpsichord & chamber organ