Centaur's Solo Viola da Gamba presents gambist John Dornenburg in a mixed recital of pieces spanning the core period for gamba literature, from 1605 to perhaps the 1770s. The standout works here are almost from the opposite ends of this spectrum, two short pieces from English composer Christopher Simpson's 1659 publication Division Viol and five movements out of a Carl Friedrich Abel manuscript in the New York Public Library that contains 70 more. This last named source is seldom investigated by gambists as the movements aren't in any order, many do not contain tempo indications, and the notation of the pieces are very loose and open to interpretation. However, it is the main source for Abel's solo gamba music, and Dornenburg presses ahead, arranging five pieces into a suite and revealing how fabulously well suited they are to the gamba; the Prelude is melting, luscious, and emotional stuff. Behind the eccentricities of the much earlier Simpson work is an inquisitive and experimental musical mind, and Dornenburg actualizes this aspect of Simpson's rare music with aplomb. It is not that the other pieces aren't as good, but the Hume, Sainte-Colombe, and Marais works, at least on the surface, would at least seem more common to gamba fanciers. The Partita XII in A minor of little-known composer August Kühnel is a nice bonus and very pleasant, if not as impressive as the other works, and a Chaconne by Marin Marais rounds off this gamba recital with a virtuosic wallop.
The recording, made at Mont La Salle Chapel in Napa, CA, is close and well balanced without being so reverberant that it swallows the instrument. Solo Viola da Gamba by John Dornenburg is a release that folks who love the viola da gamba aren't going to want to miss.