- Harp Consorts
- Duo for guitar & harp
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.