The Excellency of Hand

The Excellency of Hand
English Viola Da Gamba Duos
Robert Smith, Paolo Pandolfo
Resonus Classics: RES10186. 73’52


This CD, released in 2017, features a range of 17th-century music for viola da gamba duos by Christopher Simpson and John Jenkins together with two pieces by their contemporary,  Simon Ives, and a tiny Prelude by one of the performers. Most of the pieces are in the form of ‘divisions’, an international improvisatory method dating back to the early 16th century which involves elaborating on a theme by joining up the notes with shorter ones in a variety of forms. Such elaboration and ornamentation of a melodic line forms the basis of subsequent keyboard and instrumental music.

The music chosen for this recording is often virtuosic, rather than that intended for didactic purposes. Strongly featured is music from Christopher Simpson’s The Division Viol. The two players work well together, blending superbly in their interweaving lines. Their range of expression and emotion is large, by viola da gamba standards.

The pieces range in length from 6’30 to an astonishing mere 16 seconds – I don’t think I have ever seen a CD track so short. But, like the other similarly brief Preludes, they are all worth listening, regardless of the length.

More information, and a link to the CD booklet, can be found here. There is a video extract here. I rather liked the imaginative sketch on the CD cover, by Eva Gans.