PARTHENIA - A Consort of Viols
WILL AYTON: A RELIQUARY for WILLIAM BLAKE
PARTHENIA - A CONSORT OF VIOLS
Alexandra Montano, Mezzo-Soprano
"The combination of the exquisite music on this CD and the equally fine rendition of it by Alexandra Montano and her colleagues in Parthenia have produced an aural feast for the music lover. Certainly recommended—and highly—for far more music lovers than just the early-music crowd and their kindred enthusiasts for classic English poetry."
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare - September/October 2011
"Ayton’s passions are 'folk music, Elizabethan poetry, his Celtic heritage, his love of stories, his devotion to the art of polyphony, and his preoccupation with the philosophical and spiritual,' [and] are well realized in the present miscellany... Mezzo-soprano Alexandra Montano is an effective interpreter."
James. A. Altena, Fanfare - September/October 2011
"The Blake song cycle, commissioned by Ed Truettner, is an integrated whole of exquisite loveliness... Blake's early works, the Songs of Innocence and Experience and Poems and Fragments, are his most lyrical and approachable, the most simply poetic in form and feel. In his later works he deals with epic themes and, in a number of long poems, makes his own brand of mysticism. In the songs that Ayton has chosen to set, the lyrical is emphasized, though we hear Blake comment freely in philosophical musing about religion, love, and life. There is deft text-painting in some of these songs, such as the Garden of Love, where the image turns from love in its youth to a graveyard toured by "priests in black gowns S walking their rounds S"; the viols delightfully mimic this scene. Blake's poetry also draws on images reminiscent of the Elizabethans, whose work he had read and admired; this makes the viol consort an excellent choice to capture his cadences, forming in effect a version of the consort song.
The forward looking spirit of Blake's experimental approach to form and his breaking of new ground both poetically and philosophically are echoed in the tonalities and atonalities of the twenty-first century compositional style which Ayton has brought to bear on this poet's voice. Alexandra Montano's voice is very well suited to the gentleness of the viols and the meditative, image-laced quality of the texts, and never looses its freshness or flexibility. We hear her again in the second half of the CD in two songs on Campion texts, which are dense and complex. The first of these, O What Unhop't for Sweet Supply contains a familiar tune; Thrice Toss these Oaken Ashes, unlike Campion's setting, is through-composed. Ayton's setting of Pilkington's air, Rest Sweet Nymphs, uses both Pilkington's words and his tune, and the extended Ballad of the Rosemary, with which the CD ends, is a kind of Christmas story about Mary in Egypt washing the baby's clothes, in which the rosemary plays a starring role. With the addition of the recorder, the four Songs of the British Isles, coming right after the Blake cycle, bring a change of air without abandoning what has come before. The contrasts between the tunes also work very well; the bass viol plucks sometimes, sometimes there are fugal entries. In Standing Stone, the recorder has a separate part, and the high viols are active and weave around each other. These songs are drawn from a larger collection, Settings of Songs of the British Isles: 12 tunes. Likewise, the Winter Solstice Song and Runes for Autumn's Wind are drawn from a larger volume, Ayton's Incantation for the Solar Year. Between these pieces, Beverly Au plays A Meditation for Bass Viol in which "the performer is asked to own the piece and play it 'freely', expressive of an inner journey" (from Ayton's liner notes). Her approach fits nicely with the meditative quality of the CD without shunning the warm quality of the solo bass viol voice. The Fantasia on a Theme of Henry Purcell takes the first six notes of Purcell's Fantasia #9 in D minor and reiterates them in many different styles and moods; sometimes just the rhythm -
half, quarter, quarter, quarter, quarter, half - remains. Throughout the fantasia, the use of homo-rhythm keeps the ear on the theme. At places, the fantasia sounds almost hymn-like, or like an incantation, which works very well with other themes on this lovely CD."
VdGSA News - June 2008
"a lovely program...[Parthenia] supply the glistening instrumental backdrop...[In the Reliquary] Ayton's sense of style, counterpoint and vocal writing are all expert...Ms. Montano sings expressively and without affectation, which is also a good way to describe Ayton's music. This is a pleasant, unpretentious surprise, attractively performed and recorded."
American Record Guide - November / December 2007
"American composer Will Ayton has a self-proclaimed passion for putting "new wine into old bottles" – the new wine being his original compositions and the old bottles the consort of viols that we hear in so much of his music. The viola da gamba, supposedly obsolete since the mid-18th century, proves an ideal medium for expressing Ayton's love of folk music, Elizabethan poetry, his Celtic heritage, his devotion to the art of polyphony, his love of old legends, and his preoccupation with the philosophical and spiritual...Mezzo-soprano Alexandra Montano’s purity of tone, both as singer and as narrator in the prose passages, makes her an ideal interpreter...This CD offering is a trove of rare and unexpected delights."
Atlanta Audio Society - September 2007
"Possibly the most aesthetically cohesive setting of [William] Blake's poetry and prose to music yet...The setting of William Blake's verse to music has proved irresistible to everyone from Allen Ginsberg (ridiculous) and Robin Williamson (sublime) to William Bolcom (both) and Van Morrison (neither). For sheer consistency and elegance of tone, however, nothing equals A Reliquary for William Blake. Composed by the American Will Ayton and performed with passionate delicacy by the viol consort Parthenia and the mezzo-soprano Alexandra Montano, Reliquary creates a musical setting for 14 Blake poems that, like the poetry itself, is simple on its surface but alive with richer goings-on just beneath."
World Magazine - June 2007
This collection of the music of Will Ayton represents some of his efforts to put "new wine into old bottles". From a biblical sense, this is not supposed to work. However, the beauty of the viola da gamba's sound (the "old bottle) recommends itself to music well beyond the viol's historical period (the "new wine"). This selection of music also represents some of Will Ayton's passions: folk music, Elizabethan poetry, his Celtic heritage, his love of stories, his devotion to the art of polyphony, and his preoccupation with the philosophical and spiritual.
PARTHENIA, hailed by The New Yorker as "one of the brightest lights in New York's early music scene" is a dynamic ensemble that explores the extraordinary repertory for viols from Tudor England to the courts of Versailles and beyond. The consort of viols, much loved by musicians in Renaissance Europe, is the precursor of today's string quartet.
For more information, visit www.parthenia.org
WILL AYTON (b.1948)
A Reliquary for William Blake
Four Pieces from Songs of the British Isles
Two Settings of Songs of Thomas Campion
Rest Sweet Nymphs
Fantasia on a Theme of Henry Purcell
Ballad of the Rosemary