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CD booklet
Lawes: The Royall Consorts

Lute News
October 1, 2012

There is no shortage of fine recorded performances of the Lawes Royall Consorts, with Fretwork, The Purcell Quartet with North and O’Dette, the Rose Consort with Heringman and Miller, the Greate Consort, and an ensemble including Jacobs, S & W Kuijken and Leonhardt among the existing competition. This is a two-CD set which presents the complete set of ten consorts in the order 5,2,6,7,4,9,10,1,8,3. I’m not sure why: perhaps because of the key relationships in the sequence, though it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing to listen to the whole set in succession. Rather than the original quartets + continuo, Les Voix Humaines prefer the later re-worked versions for two trebles, two basses and two ‘pluckers’ who improvise the continuo except where there are six written out parts. Here the trebles are given to baroque violins, the basses to violas da gamba, and the continuo to a pair of theorbo players, Stephen Stubbs and Sylvain Bergeron. The bowed string choice makes a well-balanced texture with just enough variety of tone to make the counterpoint clear. The choice of theorbos for the continuo is natural, as Lawes was himself a theorbist, though later copies specified a harpsichord. The more restrained sound of the theorbo seems to me far preferable in this repertoire to the rattle of the harpsichord. These consorts effectively mark the beginning of the dance suite, in which music for no longer fashionable dances is grouped into ‘setts’ specifically for listening rather than dancing, by a fantasia. There are variations in structure, but typically we get a paven or fantasy to start, one or two almans, one or two corants, and a saraband to finish. The saraband, by the way, is the earlier, lively and ‘disreputable’ dance, not the stately near-dirge it had become by Bach’s time. To be effective these dances still need to be played in a dancey manner, something Les Voix Humaines manage superbly: their sense of timing, pace, and phrasing is impeccable. Ornamentation in the violin parts is sufficientto add interest without dominating the line. The theorbists are inventive melodically texturally and rhythmically. The recorded balance is all a listener could ask. In sum, this is as good as any recording of these works as I have heard.

Meic Goodyear - Lute News

Music Web
September 4, 2012

 This excellent two-CD set from the Canadian company, Atma, presents all of Lawes' Royall Consort Setts played by specialists Les Voix Humaines. Probably best-appreciated during his life-time for his dance and dramatic works, including masques, his chamber consort music is perhaps the most profound, affecting, penetrating and forward-looking of everything that he wrote. Lawes was well-known as an expert player of the new 12-course theorbo, which was a low-tuned lute with extra bass strings.

The Royall Consort Setts, however, are for two treble instruments (violins or treble viols), two bass viols and a continuo of two plucked stringed instruments. It's not hard to see with such a combination just how rich and emotionally strong the music was likely to be. Indeed it is; Les Voix Humaines are totally in accord with the idiom and they never rush. Listen to the Second Sett's, d minor, Pavan [CD.1 tr.5]… no rush, no hurry; yet no lingering either.

They invite us to savour every bar, turn, phrase, segment where ideas either develop or go through transition.

Finally, one of Les Voix Humaines' most significant achievements on these CDs is to have 'reconstructed' Lawes' music sufficiently successfully and with enough inner consistency, life and thrust for it not to sound like the reconstruction which such music from the era almost necessarily must. It's authentic and convincing in equal measure. Nothing spectacular, gaudy or forced. Everything suave, real and beautiful.

The acoustic of the two CD set is warm, inviting and highly suitable to this gorgeous and wistful music, which is equally vibrant and lacks any sense of indulgence. Repeated listening is easy and is aided by the way in which the players' understanding has been projected. This is a release to treasure - especially since it's the only one in the current catalogue to gather all ten of the Royall Consort Setts as a unified collection.

Mark Sealey - MusicWeb International

September 3, 2012

Compositore al servizio des Re Carlo I (di cui fu anche insegnante), l’inglese William Lawes fu impegnato nei più diversi generi musicali allora imperanti, tra I quail spiccano quelli cameristici, con particolare riguardo per I celebri Royall Consorts, facendosi ammirare anche come esecutore al liuto e alla tiorba. Nel corso della Guerra civile, partecipò attivamente agli scontri armati e venne ucciso nel corso dell’assedio di Chester. La sua scomparsa destò un vivo cordoglio e il fratello Henry (valente musicista egli stesso) compose in sua memoria una toccante Elegia (1648). La sua produzione rimase a lungo in repertorio anche dopo la morte, diffusa soprattutto in copie manoscritte.

Le suo opere cameristiche – spesso paragonate ai madrigali di Claudio Monteverdi par la valenza espressiva, per vitalità drammatica e per una scrittura già impostata con sensibilità monodica – culminano – culminano appunto con i Royall Consorts perdue archi acuti, due viole da gamba e due strumenti a corde pizzicate. Si tratta di lavori concept iti in forma di Suites ) indicate con il termine inglese Setts), aperte da una Fantasia contrappuntistica o da una sommessa Pavana e comprendenti le danze più in voga nel l’epoca : Allemande, Airs, Correnti e Sarabande, tavolta unite ad altre danze e a brani di diverso genere. Questo interessante repertorio è ora offerto dal complesso Les Voix Humaines (fondato nel 1985 dalle violiste Susie Napper e da Margaret Little), che offre qui un’interpretazione di apprezzabile freschezza, varietà espressiva, pregnanza timbrica e adrenza stilisca. I sei strumentisti danno prova di una non comune unità d’intenti, regalandoci interpretazioni ricche di ombreggiature, esberanti e sontuosi, ma non privi di abbandoni malinconici (è il caso, tra, gli altri, delle ampie e splendide Pavane da Royall Consorts n. 2, n. 9 en. 13). Notevolissimo, oltretutto, il morbido apporto dei due tiorbisti (Stephen Stubbs e Sylvain Bergeron), tale da creare una finissima trama a sostegno dell volute e degli intrecci des quartetto d’Archi. Due dischi importanti, dunque, arricchiti da ampie note di presentazione (firmata da Bruce Haynes) e resi tanto pui efficaci da una registrazione assai naturale, ben spaziata e luminosa.

Claudio Bolzan -  Musica septembre 2012

BBC Magazine
September 1, 2012

Adroitly culled from assorted cantata movements, Bruce Haynes’s reconstructed ‘Brandenburgs’ might not always hang together as concertos, but the top-drawer Bach is played with vitality.
(PR) - BBC Magazine

September 1, 2012

These 10 Royall Consorts are among his best-known works, here beautifully performed and recorded by the Canadian period string-players of Les Voix humaines.

They are presented on the two discs in what the group feels is the most effective order, with plenty of variety between each of the suites or 'setts' of dances. Interestingly, the spelling of the diffrent dances tends to indicate the English pronunciation at the time as in 'alman' for 'allemande' and 'paven' for 'pavane'. Strikingly, if we remember the example of Bach above all, Lawes regarded the sarabande as a relarively fast dance, not at all solemn.

The players on their period instruments - two Baroque violins, two violas da gamba and two theorbos - characterise well, not least in several of the pavens which are much longer and more varied than most of the dances, as in No 7 in A minor and No 9 in F. Varying his usual pattern of an opening paven, Lawes has instead a 'fantazy' in No 6 in D, echoing the form made popular by Elizabethan and Jacobean composers of a generarion earlier and also of course by Purcell a generarion later, in the miraculous sequence of masterly Fantasias written early in his career.

Happily, the players regularly emphasise the dance element in these pieces, springing the triple-rime rhythms infectiously, notably in the vigorous corants. In one or two of the Setts Lawes includes a very lively, specifìcally English dance, what he calls a 'morriss', and equally he has severa! 'eco' movements with phrases repeated softly, all of which is most persuasively brought out by the players of Les Voix humaines.

Edward Greenfield - Gramophone

Early Music America
August 30, 2012

There is something about the present rendition— recorded in 2002 and 2006 but released in 2012—that evokes that original Lawesian thrill. Not only is the musicianship world-class (as one might expect from this outstanding North American lineup), but the players also convey a combination of pomp (perhaps reflecting the not-yet-injured confidence of the English upper crust in the pre- Cromwell years) and dancing physicality that draws on English folk traditions. This is Englishry at its best, comparable with the native genius of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. The performances are full of zip, pizzazz, and attention to detail, compelling you to sing and dance along. This is truly a recording to treasure—I can’t imagine why it took such a long time to come to market. Snap it up while you can.

Tom Moore - Early Music America

Early Music Review
August 1, 2012

A warm welcome to this new recording of the complete Royall Consort of William Lawes. These ‘setts’ as they are called, are said to be among the first dance suites, and thus show that England was up with the latest European fashions. They are fabulous music, and the richness of sound resulting from the scoring of two violins with two bass viols is very satisfying, more so than the top-heavy sonority of the trio sonata. This is a performance of great zest and extravagance, with lively and danceable rhythms. The balance is beautiful, with inner parts of the bass viols allowed a clear passage.
The sensibly order the suites not in numeral order, but by key giving a listening experience such as one might have in a concert performance, Sett no 5 in D major is first, its exultant closing Saraband is followed by no 2 in d minor, with its Paven’s Lachrimae opening theme beautifully coming through the texture. This is typical of the playing throughout, great attention is being paid to balance and dynamics, allowing the richness of the part writing to have its full effect. The performance, particularly of this Paven, with characteristic but not excessively flexible rhythms, contrasts beautifully with the strong beat of the two duple and the triple Aires, each getting progressively quicker and more exciting as their character changes. This is followed by no 6 in D major, with its sectional character and its "William Lawes" close, a complete contrast. They save the amazing masterpiece, the 6 full parts of the Fantazy of Sett I in d minor, for the second disc – wonderful piece, wonderful played!
There is great variety both within and between each suite, and these performances exploit this to the full, with very eloquent playing. Compared with the also very good Chandos recording from 1995, they achieve a better balance, the viols more present, the sound richer, thanks to the lower pitch, while matching its flair and ensemble. Ornamentation is of a later, French style, and there is great freedom of embellishment, but the brisk movements, like the closing Saraband of Sett 4 are just so much fun. They use a different second violin for some of the suites and brief but excellent booklet notes are written by late Bruce Haynes.
Robert Olivier – Early Music Review

Positive Feedback
June 20, 2012

  Not too far along the way from the sonorous ebb, flow, and harmonic weightiness of renaissance music to the busy and intricately counterpointed works of the baroque fall Monteverdi, Schutz, Purcell, and William Lawes. They are closer to the spirit of the sixteenth century than to the seventeenth, but we can hear, especially in Lawes, a reaching for more complex expression and sophistication. Lawes' Royal Consorts played by the wonderful Canadian ensemble Les Voix Humaines (gambists Susie Napper and Margaret Little and four friends on baroque violins and therobes—large lutes) give great pleasure. Napper and Little are the definitive performers of Sainte Columbe, reviewed here a year or so, and are also fine interpreters of Purcell. They play with sensitivity, lightness, and restraint, enabling Lawes to speak with ease and grace; in contrast with Jordi Savall and friends, who wring more overt emotion from this music and Phantasm who play it with more vigor. Canadian musicians often seem to be a special breed who, by laying back a little produce performances that wear extremely well.
Much of this music breathes the spirit of dance. Even the slow sections have a rhythmic swing to them that can turn into something approaching whispered melancholy.

I could go on but I'd rather listen to this album again.

Bob Neill -

La Scena Musicale
June 1, 2012


William Lawes (1603-1645) fut considéré en son temps comme « The Father of Musik ». Il composa de magnifiques pièce pour consort de violes, un genre typiquement anglais. Teintés de chromatisme et d'harmonies audacieuses pour son temps, les Royall Consorts furent les plus connus du compositeur. Les Voix humaines ont enregistré les dix Setts qui contiennent en tout 66 pièces diverses, dans une version pour deux violons, deux basses et théorbes. Des ensembles aussi prestigieux que Hesperions XX, Fretwork ou Rose Consort of Viols ont aussi gravé ces oeuvres, mais en utilisant des dessus et basses de violes. Ces instruments produisent des sonorités fragiles et austères. En jouant sur des violons et violes de gambes baroques, l'ensemble montréalais donne à ces partitions de nouvelles couleurs. Le résultat est remarquable. En fait, cette version surpasse de loin tout ce qui a été fait jusqu'à présent. Les cordes sont chaudes et expressives. La mélancolie, la tendresse, la contemplation, la joie et la danse... tout devient vivant! On se laisse bercer par ces divertissements divins. Les voix se répondent l'une à l'autre dans un mouvement incessant. Les musiciens, au sommet de leur art, sont en fusion constante. Un album magnifique.

René F. Auclair - La Scena Musicale

Radio-Canada - Première chaîne
April 17, 2012

On entend beaucoup de subtilités dans l'interprétation. Il y a des moments très dansants et des moments qui sont plus mélancoliques. J'ai beaucoup aimé l'enregistrement très proche des intrusments, entendre le bois au-delà du son qui en sort.

Catherine Pogonat et Frédéric Lambert - Médium Large

Radio-Canada - Première chaîne
April 14, 2012

 Un divertissement royal!

Edgar Fruitier - Samedi et rien d'autre
April 2, 2012

 The warm, smooth sound of the ensemble is seductive as the team of Napper, Little and theorbists Stephen Stubbs and Sylvain Bergeron provide the music with its rich middle and bottom voices, allowing violinists David Greenberg, Ingrid Matthews and Olivier Brault to weave intoxicating strands of highly expressive melody. Lawes paints some beautifully melancholic moods in the pavens, the one opening the 5th Sett is a standout, but he also serves up some tricky harmonies in the 4th Sett. This isn’t doleful music. The morriss dance (an English folk form) of the 6th Sett is a particularly high-spirited romp and the ecco (echo) effects of the 1st and 6th Setts are very well conceived and would have made Monteverdi (or any madrigalist) smile.

Les Voix Humaines is superb and Johanne Goyette (ATMA Classique’s chief and engineer extraordinaire) has done a masterful job in capturing the rich, woody sound of the bowed instruments and the crisp details of the plucked. If you don’t know Les Voix Humaines you should make their acquaintance with this Lawes album and then move on to their simply sublime recordings of music by Sainte-Colombe.

Craig Zeichner -