Captain Hume’s Journey to India

Philippe Pierlot lyra viol, Dhruba Ghosh sanagi, Nitiranjan Biswas tabla, Roselyne Simpelaere tanpura
63:03
Flora 1006

What a fanciful idea to take Hume’s extraordinary imagination and contrast/combine it with the imagination of a far continent with enormously appealing musical traditions of its own! And who better to do it than Philippe Pierlot – a marvellous player, playing what he calls a ‘lyra viol’ – in this case a 6-string bass viol in standard tuning, apart from ‘I am melancholy’ which is indeed in the bandore set.

The first nine tracks are all from the 1605 ‘Captain Humes Musicall Humors’ the most substantial being ‘Captain Humes Pavan’ (no 46) with which he opens the recording. This is followed by 12 of the shorter pieces, all persuasively played with great insight, infectious enthusiasm and, of course, complete technical assurance. One finds oneself wondering: why not just let this music and this playing stand on its own, it’s so inventive, so attractive, with lovely melodies and the gorgeous sounds of the bass viol so beautifully played? Why take it to India? Before he leaves, as it were, there is such a lovely account of ‘I am melancholy’.

Then, unexpectedly, bells, the drone of the tanpura, the bowed sarangi, not such a foreign sound after what we have heard, playing a raga that recalls our minor scale, joined by the subtle plastic rhythms of the tabla. The piece has the title ‘Sunrise by the Riverside’ and, in contrast, nearly 10 minutes long. It imparts a sense of inner landscape rather than that which its pictorial title might suggest, not so distant from Hume’s whimsy, sometimes humorous, sometimes suggesting great depths.

The playing is compelling, surging to and from its principal notes, with gossamer figuration, ever increasing in its range and intensity, concluding peacefully as it began with the bells, the tanpura drone lingering on e, as Hume’s ‘Deth’ comes in with its a minor chord. The sarangi then joins it with an improvisation on what has just been played. The second section of ‘Deth’ then follows, joining seamlessly with the sarangi, and so to the end, with the tanpura maintaining its drone throughout. The result is magical and very moving.

It’s immediately followed, almost interrupted, by ‘A Tune to Hume’ played initially on the sarangi weaving its endless flow, until the tabla enters, then the voice, presumably the sarangi player, as accomplished a singer as he is a player.

Then the ‘Lamento di Tristano’ – the medieval tune, played first by the viol, with the tanpura drone, joined by the sarangi, in octaves, but with its characteristic flourishes, including bending the tuning.

The sarangi then takes off on its own for a time, and they all tear into the Rotto with the tabla even playing in octaves with the two melody instruments. Its very infectious, marvellous listening, a complete answer to my initial questions.

The booklet gives more suggestions than information, quoting Hume’s introduction to his publication, and F. J. Fétis ‘There is nothing in the West which has not come from the East.’ It doesn’t help that one page is repeated, and it seems another page is missing, but it matters so little, and perhaps even contributes to an open-ness that this recording imparts. Highly recommended – a tour de force of imaginative insight.

Robert Oliver