The subject of this list is music for instrumental ensembles, largely from the later 1500s and early 1600s, and also some solo music. Although the list will have a bias both toward the viol and toward England, other instruments and outputs will be included so as to summarize my favorite examples of instrumental writing for this era, an era which might be characterized as Late Renaissance or in some cases Early Baroque.
When it comes to the abstract & austere music which I favor, the English output is rather uncharacteristically larger than that on the Continent. While many explanations might be offered for this phenomenon, including the tangible one that the Spanish & Italian output has been less thoroughly surveyed, it is true nonetheless. In each case, after the period covered by this list and sometimes during it, the instrumental styles became lighter and more sonorous. It is the abstract polyphonic gravity which I am attempting to survey here.
I will list recordings roughly chronologically. The performances of this music are generally excellent, making a welcome change from some other repertories. Many pieces have more than one recording which would otherwise merit inclusion, but I will generally confine myself to single listings. I am increasingly picky in the latter sections.
Finally, I should note that in November 2012, I folded what had previously been a separate keyboard listing into this list. This was warranted both by a shrinking list of solo keyboard recordings that I wanted to recommend relative to ensemble recordings, and a basic questioning of why I had made the distinction in the first place. So now, one instrumental list.
The English output can be quite compelling, even if it was mostly written over only a few decades by a handful of composers. It continues to be a personal favorite. The Renaissance fades very smoothly into the Baroque here, although there is some break as the consort medium is displaced by the Italian ensemble constitutions (the last item) and then especially with the Civil War. The repertory is now rather well-covered on CD, although performance technique does continue to improve.
In the early days of instrumental music, Spain was a leader in its development, particularly in the person of Antonio de Cabezón... but then became rather conservative. This section is especially iconic, then, if still brief.
There were highly varied instrumental idioms in Italy throughout the later 16th century, and especially into the 17th. The music tends to be rather brighter in tone than the English consort repertory, but also had a wide variety of expression. And while the list below is rather short, and perhaps idiosyncratic in its preferences, there's also a much larger amount of solo keyboard & lute music from the period on record.... Even largely neglecting the solo output, though, the variety in this subsection is notable.
Aside from substantial duplication, if a recording fitting the orientation of this sketch is not listed here, either I haven't been able to obtain a copy (perhaps out of print), I don't know about it at all, or I didn't care for it enough to give it one star. In the final section, obviously I am much more restrictive. Please feel free to inquire, especially if you know a recording I probably don't.
I will try to keep this page up to date as new releases appear.
To recommendation lists.Todd M. McComb Updated: 3 March 2022