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Music Review : A Sett of Vyalls in L.A. debut

February 19, 1988|RICHARD JENSEN

A set of viols is the Elizabethan equivalent of the modern string quartet. It is also the name, in a historical spelling, of one of the most gifted new early music groups this side of the Atlantic.

The Los Angeles debut of A Sett tof Vyalls, Tuesday at Cal State Los Angeles featured four outstanding musicians: Wendy Gillespie, Mary Springfels, Carol Herman, and Margriet Tindermans.

The program of Elizabethan and Jacobean house and theater music, however, failed to show off the formidable talents of guest Judith Nelson, one of the leading singers of early music.

Nelson performed a variety of ayres, madrigals and consort songs, written in most cases for amateurs rather than professionals. Far more serious than programming, however, was the problem of balance; one had to strain to hear the voice above the instruments.

Nonetheless, some songs stood out, particularly the moving "Lament, My Soul" by Robert Jones and the delightful compendium of bird songs, "This Merry Pleasant Spring."

It was the viols, however, that stole the show.

Dances by John Dowland and Robert Johnson featured virtuosic motives passed from one instrument to the next.

More subtle, but no less fascinating, were solemn works by John Ward, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Lupo and Alfonso Ferrabosco. The counterpoint proved exquisite, the playing refined.

Most listeners would agree with the 16th-Century courtier Baldassare Castiglione, who wrote, "The musicke with a sette of violes doth no lesse delite a man: for it is verrie sweet."

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