CD review: Lawes music for lyra viol

First published in the Guardian on 16 June, 2016

Lawes: Complete music for solo lyra viol
Richard Boothby (Harmonia Mundi)

Of all the early instruments to have gone extinct — or at least fallen out of everyday use — we should mourn the decline of the lyra viol. Imagine an instrument chunkier than a modern viola, held upright like a little cello with a voice that is noble, fragile, melancholy, sweet. It fell out of fashion in the mid 1600s but luckily we still have a small but gorgeous body of solo works including these pieces by William Lawes, court musician to Charles I and composer of some of the most inventive, playful and striking music of the early 17th century. Richard Boothby’s handling of them on bass viol is supple and genial if a little careful and reverent: all except one of the 34 pieces on the disc are dances, but he makes them sound more like gentle meditations. It is a sumptuous album — just don’t be fooled by the dancing shoes on the cover.