American composer Will Ayton attempts something quite unusual here -- most previous music that takes a Renaissance style as a reference point has been vocal, but Ayton offers contemporary compositions for the viol consort, a characteristically English grouping. What makes this tricky is that the viols come closely associated in the listener's mind with a specific mood, namely melancholy. In a few short compositions, such as his Two Settings of Songs of Thomas Campion, tracks 19 and 20, and the Fantasia on a Theme of Henry Purcell, track 25, Ayton takes a straightforward approach, extending the harmonies and the contrapuntal frameworks of consort music while remaining thoroughly immersed in its sounds. In the major work on the album, however, he tries something different. A Reliquary for William Blake (tracks 1-14) sets texts of the English poet whose intensely subjective, visionary, sometimes naïve short lyrics are taught as harbingers of the Romantic movement in literature. Melancholy is not a common emotion in his works, and the melancholy of viol music is detached, not subjective. The two expressive vocabularies, then, conflict with each other in intriguing ways, and Ayton explores the clashes. Indeed, the mezzo-soprano's vocal line leads an existence that's often separate from that of the busier viols, whose utterances take on the quality of inner thoughts and fantasies, to use a term that a seventeenth century listener would have understood. Some of the poems are spoken rather than sung, a device that temporarily softens the contrast and draws the listener into Ayton's unusual way of thinking about this poetry. There is a group of four instrumental folk song settings, freely composed instrumental pieces, and a comparatively lengthy setting of a contemporary poem about rosemary; the basic style of the music remains consistent but is subtly adjusted according to each new context. Beautifully performed by the New York-based Parthenia viol consort and mezzo-soprano Alexandra Montano, this disc will hold the interest of anyone who liked viol music in the first place.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|A Reliquary for William Blake, song cycle for voice & viol consort|
|Songs of the British Isles, for viol consort|
|Two Settings of Songs of Thomas Campion, for voice & viol consort|
|Incantations for the Solar Year, for viol consort|