"This ingenious collection focused on the pre-eminent 18th-century portait painter, presents a highly entertaining selection of Georgian compositions by London-based composers all of whom were the painter’s friends. The music, chiefly for solo instruments, is generally of good quality and the performances extremely accomplished and irresistably evocative of the better drawing rooms and concert halls of Georgian London. Particularly impressive and completely unknown to me were a number of pieces by Rudolf Straube for 13-course lute, beautifully interpreted and executed by Lynda Sayce. A disc which is both musically satisfying and stimulating. Recommended."
D James Ross
Early Music Forum of Scotland - Newsletter - July 2000
"This is another charivari agréable from Charivari Agréable (’pleasant tumult?’) The connecting thread of the programme for this, their latest CD, is drawn together from compositions by several members of Gainsborough’s circle of musical friends, including both the well and not so well known: Carl Fredrick Abel, J.C. Bach, Rudolf Straube, Thomas Linley (father and son)and others. This eclectic collection of music for viols, plucked strings and keyboards in various combinations both in consort and as solo is presented as an interesting programme of varied styles and forms. Abel features prominently with two sonatas, presumably because Gainsborough was a competent violist. Susanne Heinrich’s playing displays a broad tonal palette and beautifully fluid playing. The two continuo parts are given added interest and colour by being played on the mandora (by Lynda Sayce) and the chamber organ (by Kah-Ming Ng), the two instruments providing a perfectly balanced support for the solo line. They also give us solos by Straube and J.C.Bach, on 13-course baroque lute and harpsichord respectively, in their usual, seemingly effortless way. Throughout, all the performances, in consort and solo, typify what we have come to recognize and expect as qualities of this gifted ensemble whose preparation for performance is always intelligently considered and thought through; the sounds they produce are, as usual, fresh and inventive. Some might say that the variety of styles and combinations of instruments heard on this recording would make for a less than coherent and cohesive programme; perhaps so, but as the title suggests this is not intended as a ’best of’ recording of such and such a composer. Many of the pieces are comparatively lightweight and intended for informal social entertainment, nonetheless there is a vibrancy and variety of colour which shines throughout their playing, making for a CD which is a joy to listen and relax to."
The Lute Society Newsletter - December 2000
"Upon acquiring this CD at the last Viola da Gamba Society Meeting, I had quickly rushed home that day with the prospect of having an evening of nothing but the charming melodies of Abel emanating from my stereo. On the train however, as I flipped through the sleeve notes (which by the way, contain excellent information on Gainsborough and some of his musical friends, by Lynda Sayce) I was slightly dismayed to note that out of the twelve items on the CD, only three were Abel; there was a keyboard sonata by J.C.Bach, some lute music by Straube, and the rest - lots of ’arr. by’ pieces. The reader will have to excuse my rather biased expectation, for being a viol player, I had simply assumed ’Music for Gainsborough’ meant music that came only from his close friend, the virtuoso gambist Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787). In my ideal world, this would have been so perhaps, but unfortunately the viol wasn’t the only instrument that was around (although alas, dying) in Gainsborough’s time- indeed, the Georgian portraitist, who actually preferred landscape painting, viol playing and excessive drinking more than anything else, made numerous other friends apart from Abel, who were musicians. Among these musical acquaintances of his were J.C.Bach, the lute player Rudolf Straube, the violinist Felice de Giardini and the harpsichordist and composer Thomas Linley. Charivari Agreable’s latest CD attempts to portray each of them not to mention our hero, Abel in a CD of about 73 minutes in 23 tracks. The recording gives the listener an idea of the music that was played and performed in and around London in the late 18th century.
Back to my train journey home. At this point I was thoroughly convinced I was not going to get enough of Susanne Heinrich’s playing from this CD what with only three Abels! but thankfully I was proven very wrong when I arrived home. Twelve delightful surprises, each of them a different treat from another, greetedme as the CD continued to twirl happily in my stereo, and by supper time I was my third lap of listening. There was enough of Ms Heinrich on every track (apart from Lynda Sayce’s lute solos and Kah-Ming Ng’s J.C.Bach sonata), plus some wonderfully calming and soothing unaccompanied solos (including a Mozart aria!) to quench the thirst of any ardent fan of late viol music. The recording quality, I may add, is an added bonus and despite Charivari’s usual active and variegated continuo rendering, there was nothing unsatisfying about the balance between soloist and accompanist(s). A slight note of warning to first-time listeners when approaching track 16 though. The start of the harpsichord solo was the point where I was slightly taken aback by the change of timbre from the gentle tone of two viols in the previous track to the sudden burst of shimmeringly bright sound from the 1776 Kirkman. Although listeners will probably get used to this without much problem after several listenings it might be a good idea to have the hand ready for some manual volume adjustment on the first listening - especially if, like me, one tends to have the volume rather high in the viol solos. The lute pieces on the other hand arrived on a more tolerable level.
Suffice to say, this recording contains something for everyone - viol players, lute players and keyboard enthusiasts - and Charivari’s concoction proved not only a delicious punch to savour, but also one that leaves a pleasant aftertaste."
Viola da Gamba Society Newsletter - January 2001
"The title refers to 18th Century English painted Thomas Gainsborough, who himself was a musician and who knew either the composers or the music presented on this album. Charivari Agréable is an ensemble made up of two bass viols, a baroque lute, mandora (a hybrid lute-mandolin), harpsichord, and chamber organ.
An album this long with bass viols as the lead instruments can be quite morose - in fact, I’m not sure I could take it all in one sitting, thought, given the quality of the music and performances, I just might. Despite the dark sound of the viols, they are played with brilliant expression and spry, infectious rhythms. Also, engineers give all performers a clear, warm, resonant, integrated space. This is especially true in the two Abel Sonatas (both in G), which makes use of all the instruments. There’s such potential for clutter with the bass-heavy sound, yet they’re both buoyant, energised, and crystal-clear. Good music too!
Kah-Ming Ng’s harpsichord in the 14-minute Bach Sonata is a loud, noisy thing, but energetic and spirited. It offers the only relief from the pervading sound of the viols and dark-toned lute. Bach’s Trust Me is an instrumental aria gently and expressively performed with viol and mandora. The Mozart aria from The Magic Flute is performed here with gorgeous expression that is only possible on strings. It’s a double trip, first time straight, second time with imaginative harmony. The works by Thomas Linley, Sr, are both for six-string viol, one an energetic Irish-style lyric, the other an andante aria. His son’s ditty is for full ensemble minus the harpsichord. All of Rudolf Straube’s works are for lute. Lynda Sayce plays her dark 13-string instrument with full expression, clarity, cleanness, and flexibility. Felice de Giarini’s Andante is performed on both six- and seven-string viols.
The album intermingles sonatas with arias and short selections, and the quality of the music and performances is superb"
American Record Guide - January/February 2001
"If you are adverse to early music groups playing arrangements, perhaps you should read no further‹but then on the other hand, perhaps you really should! Charivari Agréable’s forte is playing arrangements‹very carefully researched arrangements, and certainly following historical practice in which it was popular for a composer to make a setting of another composer’s piece, long before the days of copyright lawyers! The group is one of the UK’s most outstanding ensembles, and it has an international reputation for fresh and yet scholarly approach to early chamber music. The ensemble consists of flutes, various pluckies and keyboards, violin and viols‹the latter played by Susanne Heinrich, Susanna Pell and Reiko Ichise.
The artist Gainsborough was a musical dilettante and had many musicians as personal friends. They included Abel, JC Bach, T Linley and Rudolph Straube, whose music is on the Gainsborough CD. Gainsborough even had a few lessons from Abel and painted the musician many times. Frankly [this] is music I’d probably rather play than listen to, but certainly these artists do great justice to it. Featured throughout is the gambist Susanne Heinrich who passed through the tutelage of Kuijken and now teaches at the Guildhall School of Music. The recording is beautifully performed, with all artists showing great skill and passion."
Viola da Gamba Society of America News - March 2001
"… just the sounds to be heard in the wealthy households whose inhabitants Gainsborough painted so memorably … played with impeccable good taste."
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