Everyone knows that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this was an exception. I was in a hurry at the Early Music Shop at Snape Maltings and saw this CD with its painting of spring by Lucas van Valckenborch on the cover. This picture (1587) with its mix of town, countryside and people seems to embody the hopeful spirit of the renaissance when Europeans were on the path to scientific knowledge, reason and enlightenment. I thought if the music on the CD was half as good as the painting, it was probably worth taking a risk.
I was not disappointed. The CD contains gutsy performances of music much of which was popular in the reign of Elizabeth the First, and like the picture on the cover it embodies the spirit of the age. The seamless counterpoint of bass parts with the tunes makes particularly good listening and the arrangements are always innovative and exciting. There’s a range of instruments to provide musical colour – bagpipes, curtal, shawm, sackbut, cornett, hurdy gurdy, viol, recorder, guitar and percussion (which in my opinion could have been more prominent at times).
It’s a real treat to hear all these instruments played so sensitively and expressively, exquisitely interwoven, allowing the listener to hear each part so clearly. It’s full of old favourites like All in a Garden Green, and Argiers and the much earlier Hunt’s Uppe. It was good to see Michael Pretorius featured in this mix of happy holiday tunes. Complete with historical notes it’s well worth adding to any collection. In this instance you can judge a CD by its cover. Look for the musicians in the wooded glade!