Narrow-Minded Opinionism 1.

Walt Mundkowsky

[December 2015.]

[Thanks to Christoph Schlüren for the title, in a Facebook post not about me.]


As It Fell on a Holie Eve: Music for an Elizabethan Christmas.Works by Anon., John BULL, William BYRD, Anthony HOLBORNE, Tobias HUME, Thomas MORLEY, Thomas RAVENSCROFT; Shearmen & Tailors Carol, Traditional Waits’ Carol. Parthenia: Rosamund Morley (treble viol); Lawrence Lipnik (tenor viol); Beverly Au, Lisa Terry (bass viols); Julianne Baird (sop). MSR Classics MS 1365 (

Programs where viols accompany singing may allow a few instrumentals to break up the prevailing routine. This superb 2010 disc does the opposite, with Julianne Baird on only eight of the 22 tracks and none of them overexposed.

Parthenia is an acclaimed NYC quartet of viols with only six recordings, the debut being Within the Labyrinth (2002, available as download from CDBaby). Bracing tempos defuse the somber air often associated with viols, and picking highlights is easy – Byrd’s contrapuntal genius (Fantasy a4), Holborne’s courtly elegance (As it fell on a Holie Eve, The Cradle, The Night Watch), Hume’s untutored snap and swagger (Harke, Harke; The Queens delight). (Beverly Au’s solo turn on Harke, Harke is ripping.) Dr. Bull’s My Selfe, a harpsichord original, registers both losses and gains here. This shrewd program also bows to domestic, popular uses. (Anonymous gets six credits, only one less than Byrd.)

I’ve described Julianne Baird as “a rare soprano with lengthy early-music credentials yet some operatic heft in her delivery,” and she’s in prime voice. Or voices, as Latin items in Byrd’s 1607 Gradualia have shadings unlike what she finds for his Out of the Orient Crystal Skies. And the older carols sport a declamatory edge that’s again different. I’m also much taken with Ravenscroft’s Remember, O thou man, where joy over Christ’s birth is tempered by accusation. The stanzas are varied – Baird alone in the first, joined by viol plucks in the second and the full consort in the last.

The notes drop the ball in identifying Tallis as a Protestant, but look okay otherwise. No complaints on the detailed sound; some bloom is also present. Clearly this CD shouldn’t be restricted to the holidays.

Parthenia, Christel Thielmann and lutenist Paul O’Dette will perform the Lachrimae 1604 of Dowland in the Vélez Blanco Patio at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2016. Dare I expect a proper recording from them? We can never have too many good ones.

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Bryston BCD-1 player – Acoustic Revive XLR cables – Schiit Mjolnir headphone amp – Ergo AMT (Heil) headset.


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