There aren’t many recordings of William Cranford’s music so it’s a happy occurrence that LeStrange Viols has dedicated an entire disc to Cranford’s consort music for 4, 5, and 6 viols.
The recording covers much of Cranford’s surviving instrumental chamber music, most of which are fantasias in various keys. Also included in the mix are a couple of pavans, a consort version of the famous song “Go From My Window,” and a five part setting of that standby catchy tune, “In Nomine.”
The champion here of Cranford’s music is the viol consort LeStrange Viols. Now granted, if you know any viol players, you may find them a weird and wonderful lot… but this group’s name isn’t necessarily a reference to the eccentric or odd, but rather to the name of a certain English family of amateur musicians and music patrons active during Cranford’s time.
One of the members of this family, Sir Nicholas L’Estrange was a music collector who painstakingly copied manuscripts of various composers, among them William Cranford, into volumes for his personal library.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
17th-century consort playing was a very social thing, and its composers were closely knit. John Ward, William Byrd, William Lawes, and John Jenkins are all examples of prominent names in the wider circle to which William Cranford belonged.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, (or perhaps Cranford was just having a bit of fun), but while recording these pieces, Le Strange Viols found many places where Cranford borrowed or alluded to favorite musical licks by his fellow composers.
For example, the opening of Cranford’s six-part Fantasia No. 1 sounds an awful lot like William Lawes’ six-part sett in F major!
Even so, Cranford’s music is inventive and original. Now housed in the British Library, Cranford’s music from the L’Estrange partbooks can be wonderfully eccentric, filled with peculiar and unusual harmonies that grab the ear.
LeStrange Viols’ CD is the modern premier recording of the chamber music of William Cranford.