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Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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An elegy on a plaintive opening theme with an octave rise in the middle is lyrical yet unsingable. Some moments (0:32–0:36) are simply unredeemable as normative music, so unsightly are the harmonies. How does Lawes convince us to enjoy such offensive counterpoint? The hope of the major mode is dashed with regularity but the sonority of viols exploited for their rich density. What a mistake to say Lawes isn’t a contrapuntist merely because he avoids the usual tricks of imitation! This is music dependent on the circulation of peculiar materials. There is an outpouring of sad utterances, then a gentle cascade (2:20–2:24) with the added sixth note of the scale, a bizarre collection of pitches at this time. Virtually all the modulations to the neighbouring key (C major) are thwarted and revert to the minor. We play an early version of this fantasy (never before recorded) with an extended passage that Lawes later excised (3:14–4:15). (The later, more suave version is available for download on www.linnrecords.com/ recording-lawes.aspx.) In this more expansive state, a tale of woe unravels with greater eloquence, and sets the stage somewhat differently for the timid and resigned cries of ‘Ohimé!’ – ‘Alas!’ – answered each time by a passionate duo (4:16–4:33). At the end of the piece (4:51 to the end) is a solemn if incongruous church cadence, brilliantly counterpoised by the opening of the next fantasy. It’s fascinating that Lawes attains a connectedness in this fantasy, as if he’s related a coherent narrative.
Lawes is grotesque in this playful canzona opening muttered by two basses at close ‘fugeing’ range. They are answered by an angelic choir in the upper viols, but darker forces threaten, and some of this fantasy actually sneers at its listeners. An example is the impudent chromatic rising figure (0:24) with the third player entering at the ‘wrong’ time, as if making an elementary counting error (0:26). The treble viol retorts with an ungainly Scotch snap (0:30–0:31), almost spiteful in response. A fanfare of trumpets (1:07) heralds an idealised mirage before turning malevolent (1:13). There are some children’s games before passionate outbursts (beginning 1:27–1:35) replicate the replies to the Ohimé exclamations from the previous fantasy. Some fun with rising scales turns serious, even ominous, (1:57–2:23), but it is the mercurial shifts between light and shadow which mark an ever nervous disposition.
After the anarchy, some neatness and order. Order but not unalloyed sweetness, as the treble viols stretch for their high notes, especially in the B section. (All the aires are in two repeated strains, A and B.) The organ doesn’t only accompany but is a kind of backdrop to the structural platform of the piece. There is a Lawesian love of the repeated note figures in dueting intervals of tenths (1:02–1:07). Perhaps the repeated notes originated in Italian violin music but Lawes turns them into something austere, English, and poignant.