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Lawes: The Harp Consorts

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Audio CD, August 26, 2008
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Editorial Reviews


William Lawes was one of the most prolific composers of chamber music during the Caroline Era, whose life ended not long after the era itself did. A committed Royalist whose music was written for the lavish entertainments of the Royal Court, Lawes died defending his king at the Siege of Chester, which began in September 1645. Toward the end of his career as a court composer, Lawes composed 11 remarkable consort sets for harp, violin, viol, bass viol, and continuo that are absolutely unique in whole of English consort music, but they remain among the most obscure of his instrumental compositions overall, of which some 200 remain. This is partly due to the condition of the manuscripts from which they come, two of which lack the harp part altogether and others where the bass viol line merely mirrors the continuo part. There is also the crucial issue as to whether by "harp" Lawes means the Irish harp already long established in the British Isles or the French triple harp, relatively new to the kingdom at the time. Editor Jane Achtman, who also plays the viol in the group named after this Lawes cycle, the Harp Consort, has edited the set for PRB Productions and in preparing the work called upon the expertise of Harper Maxine Eilander, Baroque guitar specialist Stephen Stubbs, and his outstanding historic chamber group Les Voix Humaines. The providential by-product of this association is ATMA Classique's William Lawes: Harp Consorts, and it brings these startling chamber works to recordings for the first time. Lawes' odd choice of instrumentation combined with ATMA's excellent recording and Les Voix Humaines' nuanced and well-studied interpretation of these pieces results in a sound that has an almost orchestral arc to it. Rather than being highly musical but not very differentiated, as some of John Jenkins' consort music tends to be, each of these consort sets has a distinct character -- Consorts 5 and 6 are distinguished by their swinging and almost jazzy rhythmic flavor, Consorts 9 and 10 by their highly dissonant and eccentric harmonic profiles. While at first listen one will be struck by the overall beauty of the sound of Les Voix Humaines, the expressive depth and compositional gifts of Lawes gradually unfold with repeated listening. One will be attracted to listen repeatedly; it's a beautiful sound, and by virtue of releasing William Lawes: The Harp Consorts, ATMA Classique has filled a major repertory hole in the field of early chamber music. --, Uncle Dave Lewis, October 2008

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song TitleArtist Time Price
  1. Harpe Consort No. 8 in G MajorMaxine Eilander 8:10Album Only
  2. Harpe Consort No. 7 in G MajorMaxine Eilander 2:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Harpe Consort No. 3 in G MajorMaxine Eilander 4:38$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Harpe Consort No. 11 in D MinorMaxine Eilander 4:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Harpe Consort No. 4 in D MinorMaxine Eilander 6:30$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Harpe Consort No. 9 in D MajorMaxine Eilander 9:20Album Only
  7. Harpe Consort No. 5 in D MajorMaxine Eilander 6:38$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Harpe Consort No. 6 in D MajorMaxine Eilander 8:28Album Only
  9. Harpe Consort No. 10 in G MinorMaxine Eilander 8:38Album Only
10. Harpe Consort No. 2 in G MinorMaxine Eilander 6:59$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Harpe Consort No. 1 in G MinorMaxine Eilander 6:06$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Suite (arr. R. Mesangeau): SuiteMaxine Eilander 3:48$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (August 26, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ATMA Classique
  • ASIN: B001BLR7HQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,873 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jim Shine on October 2, 2008
Format: Audio CD
I suppose you could view this music as a first cousin of the viol consort - here we have 2 violas da gamba, violin, harp and theorbo. Lawes was one of the leading composers in the time of Charles I; he died in his early forties, having been fatally wounded at the siege of Chester (his older brother Henry outlived him by 17 years). This is the first complete recording of the 11 harp consorts, and in fact Arkivmusic lists only a single other perfomance of one of them. The reason for this fine music's neglect is the difficulty of dealing with the source material; in his booklet notes, theorbo player Stephen Stubbs goes into detail on what had to be reconstructed, and also on the decision as to whether an Irish harp or a triple harp should be used (the latter, it turns out). The 11 consorts are organized as follows: numbers 1 to 6 are suites of dances, generally along the lines of Air or Allemande, a pair of Courantes, and a Sarabande; number 7 is a short Air on its own; numbers 8 to 10 each consist of a Pavane and divisions; and number 11 is a Fantazy. Always my big concern with music of this period is whether it can stand up to sustained listening - will it get too samey after half an hour? No worries here. For a start, the pieces are grouped on the disc not in numerical order but by key - there are 3 each in G major, G minor, and D major, and 2 in D minor. This gives a unity of mood while maintaining a variety in the music. And there is plenty of variety here, the dance suites in particular giving Lawes plenty of scope and allowing him to show off some catchy tunes. The Sarabandes in particular caught my ear, and throughout one can revel in the warmth of the sound. The other significant factor in the disc's success is, of course, the musicians.Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tym S. on September 5, 2008
Format: Audio CD
This is the first complete recording of the 17th century composer's reknowned and beautiful harp consorts. Composed for the court of Charles I, these elegant waltzes are bright with the interplay of harp and violin over violas and guitar. They are propulsive for the feet while swirling in a deft and delicate romanticism. This is music you dance to with the one you love, under a clear indigo sky.

Lawes was killed, followed by his king, in the English Civil War. His legacy was almost lost to the ages from that lack of disciples and the long frown of disfavor for his use of innovative, odd counterpoints. Recent years have shone new light on him. This volume is a great record of the warmth and incandescence of his work, particularly in the skills of front players Maxine Eilander (harp) and David Greenberg (baroque violin). Lacing it and expanding it are the subtle sureness of Stephen Stubbs (theorbo and guitar) and 'Le Voix Humaines', Susie Napper and Margaret Little (violas). A labor of love full of lovely music.
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Format: Audio CD
This is an excellent and hugely enjoyable recording of the Harp Consort of Willam Lawes. I have a number of very fine recordings of some of Lawes's other consort music, but this is the first time I heave heard the Harp Consorts. They, and the performances here, stand very well beside those I already have.

The Consort of a diverse mixture of instruments had developed as an idea during the first half of the 17th Century and Lawes (who died during the Civil War) was one of its finest exponents. The music here is original, diverse and extremely engaging to the listener. He uses his combination of instruments - harp, theorbo, violin and two bass viols (violas da gamba) - very well so that there is real tonal as well as melodic and harmonic interest here and the whole effect is simply delightful.

The musicians are first-rate. I have enjoyed the work of the gamba duo Les Voix Humaines for several years now since I began buying their excellent series of Sainte-Colombe recordings (Complete Works for two equal viols, vol.1 etc). Stephen Stubbs, David Greenberg and especially harpist Maxine Eilander are also excellent and they play with a deep understanding of the music and excellent cohesion and precision in their ensemble playing. It's a great performance of this music and really makes it shine.

The recorded sound is good - although the gambas are slightly under-recorded for my taste, Stephen Stubbs's notes are full of fascinating scholarly detail and the presentation is attractive. I would recommend this very warmly to anyone with the slightest interest in music of this period - it's a really good disc.
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As for the cd "Strike the viol", this one is forthcoming. I possess only the other consorts of William Lawes and I did not know he wrote also "Harp consorts". I listened to a large extract of this last one on your web site. It pleased me so that I did not hesitate to order it.
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