Gibbons Royal Fantasies
Founded eight years ago, Concordia are not the newest viol consort to have made a name for themselves in the recording world, but they are probably the most youthful, coming as they do from the first generation of players to have benefited from the increased importance given to early music by British music colleges and conservatories. The advantages of growing up together are evident in this, Volume 1 of what looks like a complete cycle of Gibbons’s wonderful music for viols, for these are tight, intelligent and aurally attractive performances which show a like-mindedness among the players that surely comes from close acquaintance with each other.
Not that this should imply bland uniformity, for Concordia also show plenty of life. There is a sprightliness and clarity to the livelier pieces, especially in a three-part dainty like the Fantasia a 3 No 4 or in the ‘greate dooble bass’ Fantasia a 3 No 3, yet elsewhere there is weight where it is needed, for instance in the Pavan De le Roye or the five-part In Nomines. There are also some interesting ideas, not the least being the inclusion of a harpsichord continuo in many of the pieces. At first, this is a bit of a shock – a reminder, even, of the days a few decades back when some early-music performances wore their harpsichords almost as a badge of honour – but one soon gets used to it, especially when a player demonstrates as fine a blend of imagination and good taste as Gary Cooper does here. Even so, it is not always easy to see what purpose it serves. It is most effective, I think, in the ‘dooble base’ music, where it adds a suitable mix of rhythmic edge and twangy substance to the dance-like episodes. The argument in its favour, by the way, comes from a contemporary description of consort-playing by Thomas Mace, in which he recommended its use in music ‘Ayrey, Jocond, Lively and Spruce’. The same qualities could be applied to Concordia’s performances in general, save perhaps that the ‘jocond’ loses out somewhat to good old English melancholy. Compared to the outgoing brilliance of a group like Phantasm, Concordia undoubtedly sound restrained, but the compensatory gain in intimacy is substantial. Praise should also go, by the way, to Mark Levy’s thoughtful booklet-essay.'