The Sixteen: Pȩkiel Album Released

pekiel coverBartłomiej Pȩkiel is not someone who gets out much. But it’s actually gorgeous music, and it was a great pleasure to record these pieces with The Sixteen under Eamonn Dougan. There are just a few of the larger works with viol parts, and it’s that wonderful kind of North German style of writing where small bass viols are used almost like violas.

Also, it was Gramophone Magazine’s Choice for the month of September! Have a listen here.

Damon Albarn: Dr Dee

Damon Albarn’s opera/masque/stage-show/volkoper/whatever is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. It started at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and ended up at the English National Opera in 2012. In between, we recorded this disc.

It’s a kind of musical & theatrical meditation on the subject of John Dee, the famed 16th-century mathematician, alchemist, astrologer and advisor to Elizabeth I. The creative process was a very unusual one: Damon wrote loads of songs and then over the course of a few months, we workshopped them into something like what you hear here. By ‘we’ I mainly mean the band, which consisted of Mike Smith on organs, Bill Lyons, Ann Allen and David Hatcher on every imaginable early wind instrument, Arngier Hauksson on theorbo, me on viol, Madou Diabaté on kora, Afrobeat legend Tony Allen on drums, and of course Damon doing his thing. Andre de Ridder and Steve Higgins did orchestrational stuff too.

The end result is an album comprising lots of our own improvisational and compositional input. I felt very invested in it. Below, you can listen to a few of my favourite viol tracks.

Fretwork: Goldberg Variations

Fretwork has recorded several discs of Bach transcriptions, the Goldbergs being by far the most complicated and ambitious. It’s an arrangement for 6 viols: two trebles, two tenors and two basses. I’m playing one of the tenor parts on this recording, which was my first disc with Fretwork. Getting this thumping great mound of keyboard virtuosity to fit on viols is at times a bit of an ordeal, but in its finer moments the arrangement manages to illuminate the intricacy of Bach’s counterpoint quite beautifully. The canon variations are best at this. I quite like Variation 21 (disc 2 track 6).

Buy it from iTunes 


Also, here’s a nice review in The Gramophone from David Vickers (Jan 2012):

This is Fretwork’s first recording to be released since the tragic passing of founder-member Richard Campbell (who was not involved in this project). This arrangement of the Goldberg Variations for viols in up to six parts is the brainchild of another founder member, Richard Boothby, who provides a short booklet-note that is erudite, friendly and humble (there is also an illuminating commentary on the music written by John Butt). Manifold imaginative reinventions of Bach’s music modernise scorings and textures but Boothby’s transcriptions are an unusual yet fascinating advocacy for a consort of viols that Bach would have considered archaic.

A sequel of sorts to Fretwork’s album ‘Alio modo’ (10/05) that rearranged a miscellaneous selection of Bach’s keyboard works, there is nothing disloyal about these intoxicating performances. There are plenty of variations in which the sonority of the viols does not sound far removed from the much older polyphonic consort repertoire in which Fretwork made its name, although it is also striking how many valuable musical details are yielded by the consort’s conversational playing; the supreme quality of musical understanding and listening between the six players is a joy to hear. As the spirit of the music dictates, Fretwork produces playing of astonishing imagination (e.g. use of lively pizzicato for arpeggiated passages in Var. 20), dexterity (beautifully sustained trills during Var. 28) or intense melancholy (the adagio of Var. 25). With such a feast on offer, harpsichords never crossed my heretical mind.

Dunedin Consort: The Wode Collection

The Wode partbooks are a spectacular collection of late 16th-century music, with anonymous gems alongside your favs from Tallis, Lassus, Palestrina & co. This recording dives into them with gritty Scots historical pronunciation and even grittier gut-strung soundpostless viols. I’m playing the violone on this one.

Read more about the collection, listen to bits and buy the album from Linn Records.