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William Lawes - Consorts in Four and Five Parts [CD]

$16.91 (You save $5.64)
SKU: CCS15698
0.12 KGS

    This release can be purchased via official downloads

    Editions consulted (1) William Lawes, Consort Sets in Five and Six Parts, ed. David Pinto, London: Faber, 19.0079. (2) Forthcoming edition of Lawes, For the Violls a4 by Mark Davenport (with thanks to the editor for making this available to us) Warning. Exposure to the consort music of William Lawes (1602-1645) is known to cause an addiction that can be difficult to cure. The symptoms? (1) An obsessive desire to play or hear Lawes at odd times of day; (2) a compulsive humming of snatches from the Fantazys and Aires; (3) unexplained melancholia connected to certain harmonic twists. At least this has been my experience with Lawes, though it wasnt always the case. When first playing Lawes, I found his music inscrutable, bizarre, and anarchic. Jamming one summer afternoon in 19.0075 with some eminent Lawesians who had assembled in Cambridge, I was counting like mad so as not to get lost in Lawes 6-part Setts and scarcely noticed Francis Baines repeated requests between pieces to borrow my rosin. I obliged but, ignorant of English circumlocution, failed to appreciate the meaning of his gesture. After an hour or so of an obscure game of pass the rosin, the young woman on my right was kind enough to whisper: Francis thinks youre playing too loud. Point taken. Yet my own part was so wildly interesting and so apparently at odds with everyone elses - that it seemed a pity to give others a chance to be heard. What is more, my unintentional rudeness helped drown the chaos I heard around me: all those craggy melodies, awkward imitations, wilful contrapuntal errors and strange harmonies, not to mention that even seasoned players of Lawes had trouble keeping it all together. This was genuinely confusing music. To make sense of Lawes - Ive since discovered one has to crack his code. This means succumbing to his genial deviousness whilst also taking the time to characterize a range of feelings unique to him. For me, this has become the only way that Lawes pre-eminence in early 17th-century chamber music will become recognized for the dazzling and dangerous music it is. Any viol player will tell you that the sensation of weaving in and out of Lawes elaborate embroidery is quite unlike any other one can think of. But even for listeners confronted with the whole fabric, Lawes offers unparalleled pleasures. For whilst he is crafting the most complex set of audible, overlapping dialogues, he is also compelling the harmonic motion forward like a master coachman driving a team of trusty steeds. Lawes consorts arent all darkness and doom. The pure pastoral sunniness found in the Paven in F (Track 5) is matchless, but, like so many great composers Purcell or Bach, for example- Lawes cannot help adding in painful dissonances which cast tragic shadows. He also knows how to revel in playfulness as in the Fantazys and Aires in C and F (Tracks 4, 6, 11, 13) in which the pleasure of making music with a group of congenial friends is turned into a topic of invention. And for all his attraction to complexity, Lawes unexpectedly has something glorious to say about innocence, as in the opening and closing of the Paven in C (Track 12). This is music that rejoices in its diatonic naivete. Lawes most sublime inspirations, though, inhabit the realm of sadness, pain and loss, even in the major mode. He is unafraid of bleakness and gloom, and of introducing the most unlikely, angular, and even ugly subjects into the counterpoint, as in all the Fantazys in minor. And he can be harsh and uncompromising once he has committed himself to austerity, as in the stark contours of On the Playnsong (Track 15), not based on any recognizable chant, this despite including some heart-wrenching glimpses of hope. (These are also heard in the Paven in c (Track 9), an almost unbearably beautiful homage to Dowlands tragic set of pavanes based on Flow my tears.) What is striking about Lawes despair, though, is that it is projected so often in a torrent of quick notes and dense imitations. The rhythmic, dance-like vitality, even jerkiness, of this music is often overwhelming in its effect. Listen, for example, to the cascades of falling arpeggios toward the end of the Fantazy in c, the dotted figures in the last strain of the Paven in F, the surging scales near the end of the second Fantazy in a, or the country fiddling that accompanies the crass pedal tones at the end of Aire in Ca5 (Tracks 7, 5, 2, 13). Lawes is a wonder. I hope listeners dont need 25 years to be bitten by the bug. Laurence Dreyfus 2000

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