Lawes: Fantasia-suites

Lawes: Fantasia-suites for two violins, bass viol & organ
London Baroque
Harmonia Mundi 901423

Reissued as Harmonia Mundi "musique d'abord" 1901423


    Sett no. 1 in G minor
  1. Fantazia
  2. Aire (Almaine)
  3. Aire (Galliard)

  4. Sett no. 2 in G major
  5. Fantazia
  6. Aire (Almaine)
  7. Aire (Galliard)

  8. Sett no. 3 in A minor
  9. Fantazia
  10. Aire (Almaine)
  11. Aire (Galliard)

  12. Sett no. 4 in C major
  13. Fantazia
  14. Aire (Almaine)
  15. Aire (Galliard)

  16. Sett no. 5 in D minor
  17. Fantazia
  18. Aire (Almaine)
  19. Galliard

  20. Sett no. 6 in D major
  21. Fantazia
  22. Aire (Almaine)
  23. Aire (Galliard)

  24. Sett no. 7 in D minor
  25. Fantazia
  26. Aire (Almaine)
  27. Aire (Galliard)

  28. Sett no. 8 in D major
  29. Fantazia
  30. Aire (Almaine)
  31. Aire (Galliard)

Performers: Ingrid Seifert (violin), Richard Gwilt (violin), Charles Medlam (bass viol), Richard Egarr (organ)

Instruments: violins - Jacobus Stainer (Absam, 1661 & c.1660); bass viol - Barak Norman (London, 1718); organ - William Drake (Buckfastleigh, 1982)

Playing time: 73'

Recording date: June 1992

William Lawes (1602-1645) was one of the most creative and sophisticated composers of consort music. An analogy has been made between him and Beethoven, for the unprecedented innovative elements he brought to the instrumental styles of the time. This includes jarring angular themes, and bold harmonic schemes carried off with ease. Lawes' genius had the potential for initiating a classical instrumental tradition before its time, but this was not to come to fruition due to his short life and the onset of the English Civil War. Lawes is a composer who could easily appeal to a much wider audience than is currently aware of his music.

This recording consists of Lawes' complete Fantasia-Suites for two violins, bass viol & organ. These impressive pieces effectively anticipate the trio sonata, though the continuo (organ) part is more fully developed. They show Lawes' style, though they do not exhibit as much individual variety between suites as do his viol suites. These compositions have been unjustly neglected in the history of the violin in chamber music.

The performance is quite impressive, especially the Stainer violins. There is also a recording of these pieces by the Purcell Quartet:

Lawes: Fantasia-Suites Nos. 1-8
Purcell Quartet
Chandos Chaconne 0552

The companion pieces to the present disc:

Lawes: Sonatas for violin, bass viol & organ
London Baroque
Harmonia Mundi 901493

This recording presents Lawes' 8 suites/sonatas for one violin, and completes his violin output. What these sonatas lack in contrapuntal complexity (due to the smaller number of instruments) is made up for by a more intricate top line. Otherwise, the styles are effectively similar.

Along with these two sets of more standard-format violin music, much of Lawes' other chamber music involves violin(s) in a more unusual ensemble. A recording of some of his most famous music:

Lawes: The Royall Consort Suites
Purcell Quartet
Chandos Chaconne 0584/5 (2 CDs)

A recording featuring the music of Lawes' contemporary Christopher Simpson (c.1605-1669), in a related format:

Simpson: The Monthes
Virgin Veritas 45281

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Todd M. McComb