‘New discoveries for an ancient instrument’
Richard Boothby, viola da gamba
Garrick’s Temple, Hampton on Thames,
Loki Music, 23 September 2016
One of the most delightful of London’s music venues is Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, by the Thames just upstream from Hampton Court Palace. Built in 1758 by the actor/manager David Garrick as part of his riverside estate, this tiny octagonal room is host to a number of cultural events, including regular summer music concerts run by Loki Music. The last of this season’s Loki concerts was given by the distinguished viola da gamba player, Richard Boothby, founder of Fretwork and the Purcell Quartet.
The first half was particularly interesting, with five of the recently discovered Fantasias for solo viola da gamba by Telemann (TWV 40:26-37). They were known to have been published in Hamburg in 1735, but no copies were thought to have survived until a manuscript was discovered in the music collection of a North German castle in 2015. They join his other collections of pieces for solo instruments, and their publication is an important addition to the gamba repertoire as well providing an intriguing insight into the technical ability of German gamba players in the 18th century, a period of decline for the viola da gamba.
Richard Boothby explained that Telemann’s use of all twelve keys raises questions of gamba resonance and sonority, but for his examples he sensibly chose from the fantasias written in the more gamba-friendly keys. They are extraordinary pieces, each in three movements, and demanding a high level of technical ability, some way removed from Telemann’s compositions for amateur musicians. Richard Boothby’s opening 2nd Fantasia in D (illustrated) demonstrated this aspect, with its tricky hand manoeuvres during the arpeggios of the final Presto. Many of the movements of the Fantasias played (Nos 2, 3, 7, 9 and 11) were written in two parts, including various attempts at fugal writing, the opening movement of Fantasia 9 being the most successful. The pieces chosen demonstrated the wide range of musical styles that Telemann used, ranging from formal fugues to a tarantella-like Allegro in Fantasia 11. The opening Allegro of that piece includes a sequence of repeated three notes chords, an unusual texture in gamba writing. The only slight quibble was that the pieces were played on a copy of an early 17th century French, rather than North German, instrument, producing a rather different sound world to that of Telemann.
In the second half, Boothby changed to a smaller lyra viol, dating from about 1700. The brighter and more direct sound was possibly closer to the North German sound of Telemann’s era. Its owner, Bill Hunt, described the instrument and its history, suggesting that it might have been a rare example of a Scottish-made gamba. It was first known of when it was given to a distinguished Jacobite prisoner languishing in Carlisle prison. Richard Boothby explained the enormous complexities of the lyra viol, with is enormous range of different tunings, demonstrating with pieces by William Lawes (the subject of his most recent CD), written about 100 years before the Telemann, but fitting the Shakespeare-inspired surroundings well.
Richard Boothby’s playing was exemplary, and his descriptions of the music and the instrument appropriately well-judged. With a capacity audience of just 40 people, this was a very different experience of music making. The sound of such an intimate instrument in such an intimate space was magical, as was the architectural setting of the Garrick Temple in its garden by the Thames. It was also rather nice to know that on the adjoining riverside plot floated David Gilmour’s spectacular houseboat recording studio where several Pink Floyd and most of his own recordings were produced.