Not much is known about Christopher Simpson’s life, except that he was a seminal writer for the viol. Even today modern violists use his manual The Division Viol as a guide to the practice of ‘divisions’, the improvised embellishments that were so fashionable during his time. Much of his music nevertheless goes unperformed, and the present collection of Ayres here receives its first recording, by Chelys, a British quartet of young violists. Describing the collection as being ‘for two trebles and two basses’, the manuscript sources also include parts for continuo. Chelys have therefore enlisted the aid of Dan Tidhar and James Akers in the twenty airs, pavanes, galliards and other dances that fall comfortably into five suites. On the disc are also some examples of Simpson’s Divisions, for two treble viols and for treble and bass viol respectively. As a result, the programme offers fascinating insights into Simpson’s music and the viol during the mid-17th century. By turns melancholy, lively and graceful, these Ayres are glowing examples from the tail-end of the great English tradition of music for viol consort – a tradition to which, some ten years after Simpson’s death, Purcell with his celebrated Fantazias would add the final chapter.
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