Christopher Simpson's 1659 publication The Division Violist was a compendium of technique relating to the viola da gamba, both technical and compositional. Like that of other compilers of instruction books, Simpson as a composer has remained in the shadows of more famous contemporaries. Gambist John Mark Rozendaal here attempts to elevate Simpson's output, even comparing The Division Violist to "the late works of J.S. Bach among those rare monuments of musical Art in which the conventional dichotomies of theory and practice, art and science, freedom and discipline, inspiration and perspiration are rendered irrelevant by perfect synthesis." He doesn't quite make his ambitious case, although gambists will welcome the chance to hear this seldom-recorded music. Rozendaal finds a mystical strain, "combining the disciplines of a yogi and a mathematician," in Simpson's theoretical introductions, but readers don't learn enough about Simpson's writings to decide whether they go beyond the usual appeal to Greek and Roman authority that was common to musical writings of the day. The ear detects little out of the ordinary in Simpson's sets of "divisions" or variations, some of which involve a harpsichord. They have an attractive simplicity that befits teaching pieces, but the "explicitly mathematical" quality Rozendaal points to is not explained in enough detail to enable the listener to detect it. It might have helped if Simpson's work had been presented in some portion of its original order, but instead it is broken up with pieces from another publication, the even lesser-known Manchester Gamba Book of the middle seventeenth century. This volume, notated in French lute tablature, can be realized only speculatively, but the pieces from the book, with their odd titles (The Buildings, Salte Pitts, Whoope Doe Me No Harm) are often charming and are even less familiar than the Simpson works. Gambists and their friends may find that this release opens up new lines of thought, although the general listener will likely be put off by sound that tends toward the harsh and remote.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Divisions in E minor for solo bass viol & organ "Minuritiones septimae" (from the Division-Violist, 1659)