Son of a shoemaker, Simpson composed pieces for the viol in all the styles prevalent in English viol music in the 17th century. He was also a revered theoretician. His book "The Division-Violist" (London 1659) was highly praised. The Late Sophie Watillon conveys the fantasy and imagination of the improvising violist in seventeenth-century England.
Enregistre en octobre 2004 a Namur (Belgique)
a l'eglise de Franc-Waret
Christopher Simpson: The Seasons, The Monthes and Other Divisions of Time - I is the lengthy title for a generally excellent disc devoted to Simpson by a viol consort led by Sophie Watillon for the Alpha Productions label. It includes two of Simpson's "seasons," The Winter and The Spring, the first six "monthes" of the year, and three sets of divisions. Presumably Christopher Simpson: The Seasons, The Monthes and Other Divisions of Time - II will complete Watillon's surveys of Simpson's seasons and "monthes," in addition to other things, but this is fine just by itself. The playing of Sophie Watillon and her group is sensitive, well-paced, and flexible in a manner that does justice to the somewhat jazzy milieu Simpson alludes to in his theoretical works such as The Division Violist. Watillon's approach to this music is coming more from an artistic motivation than from a scholarly bent, and the portion of the liner notes written by her contains an original poem, as opposed to the sort of serious justification, and the laying of musicological groundwork, that we usually see.
Nevertheless, once you listen, you will not miss that. While all of the music on Christopher Simpson: The Seasons, The Monthes and Other Divisions of Time - I is top drawer, it is hard not to be especially drawn to the Divisions, pieces originally intended for teaching rather than listening. Their minimalistic-sounding repeated patterns and rapid passagework are all the more attractive to modern ears due to the similarity it bears to pop music, certainly not what Simpson had in mind in 1659. If the composer has any latent misgivings about this misappropriation of his work, he should get in line behind Johann Pachelbel, who on the same score would have a lot to complain about. The rest should just simply sit back and enjoy, an activity that is very easy to do when Christopher Simpson: The Seasons, The Monthes and Other Divisions of Time - I is in the player. This disc is urgently recommended to types who want to have music for relaxation, but prefer it not to be too familiar or overly comfortable.
Although it may be next to impossible to discern the programmatic aspects of the works presented here - with titles such as "The Winter", "The Spring", "January", "April", etc. - it's not at all difficult to appreciate the stylish and highly refined instrumental writing that produced these excellent pieces for viols, plucked strings, and keyboard. Christopher Simpson was one of England's finest composers of viol music in the 17th century, and his treatise on viol technique, which included discussion of the prized art of improvisation, was an important contribution to the compendium of essential instructional works for the instrument. As shown in this collection, the viol was highly versatile and enormously expressive, which often (and rightfully) was compared to the human voice for its range of inflection, dynamic modulation, and timbral variety. And the instrument's ability to blend so agreeably with others in its "family" creates a sound that falls sweetly on the ear.
Simpson exploited the viol's numerous bowing techniques and didn't hesitate to ask his performers to take off in increasingly faster or more complex "divisions" on a theme, spicing them with ornamentations and changing rhythms. The best examples of these techniques are found here in The Spring and in the month of "June", near the end of the program. Needless to say, if you enjoy viol consort music, you'll be happy and impressed with the music and the ensemble musicianship on this first-rate release. The sound is very complementary - richly resonant and full-bodied.
-David Vernier (www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=10188)