The viola da gamba, the ancestor of the modern cello, itself had antecedents that have been only sparsely preserved. Two of them are examined on this Spanish-British release, played by Fernando Marín in reconstructed versions featuring such down-and-dirty original equipment as sheep gut strings. The lyra-viol is rather mysteriously described by Marín as a "fusion of the viola da gamba, Indian bowed stringed instruments with resonant metal strings, and the Italian Lira de arco for polyphonic playing." The last phrase is key; it's a small viol with a large number of strings laid out in such a way that the instrument can produce extended passages of polyphony. The repertory for the lyra-viol from 17th century England has been played from time to time, but the examples by Italian composer Alfonso Ferrabosco played here are quite rare. The lyra-viol's buzzy gut bass strings are matched in exoticism by the vihuela de arco, the Spanish instrument that, influenced directly by Arabic models, influenced the entire line of bowed viols in southern Europe. The album ends with relatively more familiar music for the viola da gamba (or its French equivalent) by Sainte-Colombe, Telemann, Abel, and the elusive Sr. de Machy. All the pieces are short dances or polyphonic essays with the title Recercata, later known as the ricercar, which finally evolved into the fugue. Marín brings the sounds of these instruments to life, and he has a feel for the arcane, intellectual qualities of viol music that came into full flower with the French school of the 17th century. His elliptical notes are given in English and Spanish. The major disincentive here is the sound, whose source location is unidentified but resembles a crypt in ambiance.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
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