Artistic quality 9, Sound quality 9
"It’s certainly not news that Elizabethan England produced some profoundly enduring music. But here’s yet another entry to the huge anthology of recordings that variously celebrate this rich, fertile period of artistic creation and innovation. Although you can’t tell from the outer packaging, this is an instrumental program that features viols, virginals, harpsichord, chamber organ, and lute, performed by a trio of very proficient musicians known as Charivari Agréable. John Dowland, John Johnson, Giles Farnaby, and Tobias Hume are represented, along with William Byrd, whose notable harpsichord piece, The Bells, exploits the instrument’s natural ringing tonal characteristics, juiced up with cascading runs and rapidly layered chords. The disc’s title piece is a gentle lute lament on the death of the Queen, which flows seamlessly into Dowland’s own commemorative galliard "The most sacred Queene Elizabeth". There’s much to admire here, and nothing to admonish. It’s just a finely organized, well-performed program that captures the spirit and character of instrumental music of a specific time and place - an indulgence for early music enthusiasts who already own many such collections, and a worthy introduction to this genre for anyone new to this repertoire."
"Just space to mention The Queen’s Goodnight, the latest from Oxford’s excellent Charivari Agréable. This disc focuses on Elizabethan and Jacobean music for Charivari’s lute, viol and keyboards, and its as vital as we’ve come to expect from them. Hume’s Deth and Life is a viol highlight, and Lynda Sayce’s lute solos are all wonderful. Folkies might also like this music."
Oxford Today - March 2003
"Queen Elizabeth I brought together the finest talent in the land and created collections of consort, lute and keyboard music that are still renowned today. Charivari agréable have arranged their core trio music that depicts the life of the queen: "music from the court, an exhilarating depiction of a hunt, celebrations from the queen’s coronation and the moving laments on her death" (Sayce). If - depending upon your age - your pulse quickens at the mention of the legendary Cortot/Thibaud/Casals, the Beaux Arts Trio or, say, the Guarneri Trio Prague or Gould Piano Trio of today, allow yourself to consider, in a fully comparable bracket of excellence, Oxford’s multinational Heinrich/Ng/Sayce Trio.
You will not be thinking upon those lines if you rely upon Radio 3, as Colin Booth complains in a well argued article in ‘Early Music Review’ about institutional bias which downgrades early music expertise. Yet readers of S&H will know that I have regularly extolled the work of Charivari agréable, a musical jewel in Oxford’s crown. Often these players are joined by others to form larger ensembles; here they play solo, duo and trio changes on viols (treble, tenor and bass), virginals, harpsichord, chamber organ and seven-course lute. This ensures textural variety in mainly shortish pieces by ten composers plus the ubiquitous anon (the longest is Hume’s Lamentations at seven mins) and they cover the whole gamut of emotions. I did need to alter the volume once between tracks, and there is a minor discrepancy between track numbers on my review copy (correct in the insert). All three are formidable academics as well as being sensitive multi-instrumental virtuosi, and presentation is comprehensive as usual with this series, including details of all the instruments (modern copies) and with an interesting essay by Linda Sayce about the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the transition from Tudor to Jacobean epochs."
Dr Peter Grahame Woolf
"From the very first chord, this CD has a wonderful feeling of three talented musicians (Susanne Heinrich, Kah-Ming Ng & Lynda Sayce) really enjoying themselves. Even when it isn’t happily bubbling on the surface, one imagines a contagious merriment they are scarcely able to contain, and which seems, by the end, to have carried you right through the eighteen tracks. It is only on subsequent replays that one remembers too the sublime, Robin is to the Greenwood Gone, its lute accompaniment contributing equally to the viol¹s lyricism, and Hume¹s hauntingly beautiful Lamentations, the clear texture of both plucked and bowed strings mixed with the organ to create a surprisingly blended sonority. There are tracks too that are more sobering in their demands upon the listener. But gone (at least for the time being) are the days when I could listen to LPs over and over and over, knowing every blemish as well as every musical strand; and, for this CD (as every other) it is copied onto tape to be played in my car, in direct competition with the demands of traffic. I mention this because, although London traffic has seemed much lighter since I began listening to the tape, even after a dozen listenings, Hume’s Deth and Life (a truly sobering piece), with the distorted pulse characteristic of lyra-way playing, remained a complete mystery until I had time to sit down at home and give it a fair chance; and the tape has always ended with the driving pulse from the over-enthusiastic rhythm-section (at this point a relatively closely-miked lute and viol) almost completely obscuring the keyboard’s closing jigg. In the case of the jigg, not even a traffic free environment does much to reveal the keyboard the players’ exuberance, for the closing minute or so, no longer allowing for such niceties as balance; and as for lyra-way, I am afraid it still remains at least a partial mystery. I have never been a lyra-viol fan, and not even this brilliantly played collection of beautiful sounds can make up for my memory’s inability to keep track of the plot the rhythms are too wayward, the phrases too disconnected. The Corkine lyra piece on the other hand, cleverly combined with, and kept in check by, Gibbons¹s keyboard variations, is much more successful. It is an example of the imaginatively adventurous arrangements that is one of the characteristics of this entertaining group and which, with the cleverly planned running order, makes this CD so delightfully accessible. The Queen¹s goodnight is a must, even for those without memory sufficient to follow lyra-way or money to afford a car with a decent sound system."
Viola da Gamba Society (UK) Newsletter - October 2002
"This recording could well have borne the subtitle ’Three musicians in search of a repertoire’. The members of Charivari Agréable, who between them play lute, bass viol and keyboard, here explore English music from the decades around Queen Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. Yet not a single work for that particular mix of instruments survives from the time, a problem they solve by arranging, adapting, substituting and peppering the proceedings with solo pieces by Byrd, Dowland, Gibbons and Tobias Hume. Only purists will object to the result, which is so delightful it makes you wonder why the Elizabethans themselves never thought of writing trios for this combination. Best of all to my ears is Richard Allisons ’Knell’, originally for a mixed consort of flute, viols and plucked instruments, which Charivari Agréable exquisitely simulates with the aid of a chamber organ. Pieces by Johnson and Robinson originally for two lutes work well when one part is played pizzicato on the viol. As for the ballad tune "Robin is to the greenwood gone", played on bass viol with imaginative keyboard backing, its soulful sound melts the listener’s heart. In sum, a delightful disc, and a treasure trove of pieces that are very rarely heard."
Performance: **** (4/5) [very good] Sound: ***** (5/5) [excellent]
Dr John Milsom
BBC Music Magazine - November 2002
"Working through the pile of CD’s which had arrived for possible review, it was tempting to put The Queen¹s Goodnight to one side, despite my memories of the quality of Charivari Agréable¹s last CD The Sultan and the Phoenix. A selection of late sixteenth century music for viol, lute and keyboard did not seem very exciting. Then I listened to it. Once again, Charivari Agréable have turned seemingly unpromising material into gold.
The point of departure for The Queen¹s Goodnight is the 400th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth I, which falls in March 2003. The story of her end is simple. "The bishop kneeled down by her, and examined her in her faith: and she so punctually answered... as it was a comfort to all beholders" The Bishop told her that she had been a good Queen for 45 years on earth, "yet shortly she was to yield an account of her stewardship to the king of Kings"
It could so easily have been very different. With social conventions which meant that she could not ride at the head of an army to quell rebellion, no children to give in marriage to cement alliances abroad, and a constant buffeting from the upheavals of the Reformation, her reign could easily have ended in failure. One of the many secrets of her success was skilful use of the royal court: attendance was more-or-less essential for those with political ambition, and she, and her entourage, were able to demand the financially ruinous hospitality of any noble who showed signs of disloyalty.
It is tempting to be dismissive of the late sixteenth century secular music, not least because it is often plundered as a source of ³simple² music which is easy to play. But the social context should ring a warning bell. Highly capable people dancing attendance on a cultivated and capricious queen were bound to cultivate the arts, both as a diversion, and as a non-political means of attracting attention. The only reason for this music to seem ³easy² is that the sources which come down to us are often the skeletons on which the music was built, and not the totality.
Here is where the skills and musicianship of Charivari Agréable start to shine. In their hands this selection of pieces works extremely well and makes very rewarding listening. The vivacious first track sets the stage ‹ Susanne Heinrich¹s treble viol has the richness and life which people often say can only be achieved on a violin, while Kah-Ming Ng and Lynda Sayce step in turns between continuo-like playing and a conversation with the top part.
One of the many surprises of the CD is Tobias Hume¹s Deth and Life for solo viol, which has a haunting beauty and can hold its own with the finest of the French viol repertoire from a century later.
In other hands, a series of four tracks for solo lute in the middle of a CD could be a mistake, but superb playing makes this a magical moment. The next track, for solo harpsichord, fits the sequence beautifully. It¹s also clear that Kah-Ming Ng¹s playing on this track is entirely consistent with other places where he is (presumably) improvising. Reviewers of other Charivari Agréable CDs have complained at an over-active right hand. I don¹t agree, and find his additions valuable and entirely tasteful. The case is even stronger in pieces for organ, viol and lute, where sensitive right-hand work allows all three instruments to move in and out of focus effectively.
I¹ve really enjoyed this CD. Fertile imagination, excellent musicianship, and persuasive playing make it a real delight across the full spectrum of emotions from the brightness of The Scottish Huntsupe & Jigg to Robinson¹s The Queenes Good Night.
There was an ancient Chinese custom which said that it was important to make a raucous noise when someone died, encouraging them to go on their way and not linger as a ghost. If Charivari Agréable had been playing this music at the death-bed of Elizabeth I, she might have stayed around..."
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