Inspired by viol-maker Richard Jones’ copies of Venetian instruments, the Rose Consort of Viols presents a globe-trotting recital, centred on Venice (La Serenissima) – a hub for musicians of the time. There’s everything from lively galliards to free-wheeling fantasias, and covering a range of composers from Italy, Germany, France and England.
Most of this music is heard far too rarely, and some of it is quite extraordinary. I was once told that Renaissance counterpoint “wasn’t nearly as complex as the Baroque”, and I suspect that such an ignorant statement could be easily shattered by some of the pieces here. For example, the liner notes point out that the tenor viol part of Henricus Isaac’s La my la sol doubles in speed each time it repeats, until it syncs up with the rest of the consort. So much for a lack of complexity!
Not all of the works are so logically constructed. The Rose Consort give a fabulously rustic performance of some anonymous dances from the mid-16th century from both Italy and England, and it’s easy to imagine the music as the background to a ball or social event. Furthermore, Delphian have done a fine job in recording the plangent timbre of the viol consort. It can be rather a nasal sound, but the engineers have ensured that there’s warmth under the delightful scratch and rasp of the viols. A treasure chest of Renaissance riches!