Doulce Mémoire

Margaret Little viol, Sylvain Bergeron archlute
62:25
Atma Classique ACD2 2685
Music by Banister, Giovanni Bassano, Bonizzi, Lanier, Layolle, Ortiz, Playford, Rogniono, de Selma & anon

Sting seems to have created a fashion for using the archlute for music from the 16th century, where others would play a lute with fewer courses. Sylvain Bergeron’s instrument is based on one by Venelio Venere from the 1590s, when it seems the archlute first appeared. Margaret Little’s bass viol is based on the work of Michel Colichon, who flourished in Paris at the end of the 17th century.

The first track of the present CD is Recercada Primera from Diego Ortiz’s Libro Segundo (1553); Bergeron plays the divisions on his archlute, accompanied by faint chords of the ground presumably plucked on a viol. For Recercada Quarta Little plays the divisions on her bass viol, with a certain amount of rhythmic freedom; in bar 8 she adds an extra crotchet rest which throws the syncopated dotted crotchet onto the beat, and which appears to throw her accompanist for the first chord of the next bar.

The archlute and theorbo both have extended necks and produce deep bass notes, but unlike the theorbo, the archlute does not have a re-entrant tuning, so it is possible to play higher notes and sustain a melody more easily. In John Bannister’s Divisions on a Ground the deep notes of the archlute are heard to good effect throughout; Bergeron and Little take it in turns to play the divisions, adding their own gloss with tasteful ornaments and other personal touches. It is an effective combination. Other pieces included from John Playford’s The Division-Violin (1685), are Paul’s Steeple, Roger of Coverly, John come kiss me now, Tollet’s Ground, Faronell’s Ground, and Another Ground by John Banister. These sets of divisions account for nearly half the CD, four played on a bass viol, two on a treble viol, and one as an archlute solo. A facsimile of the music is available free online at IMSLP.

Three tracks are associated with Pierre Sandrin’s “Doulce Mémoire”: a duo setting by François de Layolle (dated 1539), Ortiz’s well-known divisions (1553), and extravagant divisions by Vincenzo Bonizzi (early 17th century). Little’s virtuosity is impressive in Fantasia Basso solo by Bartolomeo De Selma, with notes scurrying across the fingerboard. Bergeron’s expressive playing comes to the fore in a solo arrangement of Nicolas Lanier’s “No more shall meads” and “Another Ground” by Banister. It is an interesting anthology of music featuring divisions, but their instruments are more in keeping for the 17th-century pieces.

Stewart McCoy