Adam Woolf's album 'Songs Without Words' treats us to the relatively rare and yet revelatory sound of the sackbut playing the solo lines of some popular and some less well-known works by Monteverdi, Castello, Fontana, Frescobaldi, Schütz and others, accompanied by a lively continuo group containing harp, theorbo, viol and harpsichord or organ. I have to admit that I was not quite sure what to expect when I first put this disc in the player; however, I was quickly won over by the astounding virtuosity of Adam Woolf in executing so deftly the sorts of fast diminutions that challenge players of treble instruments such as violin and recorder, and by the sheer beauty of his performance in the slower works. It was wonderful also to hear the assured and rhetorical playing of keyboardist Kathryn Cok- especially on the organ, which she really makes speak. The other members of the continuo ensemble (Siobhán Armstrong on harp, Nicholas Milne on viol and Eligio Luis Quinteiro on theorbo) do a splendid job in accompanying an instrument that they would rarely support as a solo line; Nicholas Milne also contributes a stunning performance of the solo line or Ortiz's recercada segunda in track 6. The liner notes provide some interesting context to the construction of this programme. Woolf cleverly combines the 19th-century concept of 'songs without words' with the 17th-century conception of the sackbut (and cornett) as instruments that closely imitated the human voice. Hence there is a combination in this programme of pieces with vocal or instrumental lines played by the sackbut, and of vocal lines which he plays decorated with diminutions. In the notes, Woolf also reminds is of the close relationship of the sackbut with voices and with plucked instruments. He points our that the descriptions by Praetorius, Mersenne and others of virtuoso sackbut players do no add up when we consider the absence of extant music for the solo sackbut: Woolf convincingly demonstrates the possibilities that exist in reconstructing the repertory for this instrument, by arranging and adapting 17th-century works. In sum, this is a thoughtful and innovative disc, which exhibits not only the expressive and technical capabilities of the sackbut, but also the creativity and artistic determination of this performer.
'Early Music' 2012
Songs Without Words is a recording of music based around vocal music but performed without singers. As Woolf explains in his inlay notes (which are excellent: clear, well researched, informative and very interesting), the music on this disc can be divided into three categories: pure vocal music, divisions on vocal music, and canzonas/sonatas/ricercadas.
Track one, Monteverdi's Laudate Dominum, is performed as written but with the sackbut replacing the voice. Here, Woolf's warm and singing tones leaves us in n doubt as to the sackbut's ability to imitate the voice. Indeed, every musician on this disc demonstrates their obvious knowledge of the 'text' they are performing...more so than many a singer.
The subsequent tracks show not only the vocal qualities of these instruments and musicians, but also their virtuosic and ornamental skills. There is beautiful variation of colour in the choice of accompanying instrumentation and order of pieces on this disc, which keeps the listener engaged to the end.
Sam Rogers - Musica Antiqua
Adam Woolf is a long-serving member of His Majesty’s Sackbuts & Cornetts, and this solo recital consists of transcriptions of 16th- and 17th-century vocal music. The sackbut follows the vocal line exactly, or adds ornamentation to create virtuoso display pieces. The results are unexpectedly mellifluous and I was unprepared for the panache of Woolf’s playing. It’s like a softer, mellower trombone sound, and the sleeve note quotes period sources praising 17th-century sackbut players who could match the agility and range of singers. Woolf’s technique never draws attention away from the music he’s chosen, or the idiomatic accompaniments on organ, theorbo, harpsichord or viola da gamba.
The slower pieces are especially successful- Schütz’s O Jesu nomen dulce with its lilting harp and theorbo backing, or Van Eyck’s mournful Dowland-influencedPavane Lachrymae, the only work on the disc played without accompaniment.
TheArtDesk.com - April 2011
This auspicious disc is one of the last arrivals for review in 2010 and if we were to go in for star ratings and Records of the Month (or Year) it would rate very highly for both.
2010 has been a year in which we have developed our interest in early instruments, to such extent that Steinways are beginning to feel anachronistic with such competitors as Kristian Bezuidenhout in Mozart, Malcolm Bilson and his team in Beethoven and Alexei Lubimov in Schubert.
Adam Woolf's solo CD is the first full-length commercially available recording which focusses on the sackbut as a solo instrument; precursor of the trombone, and more usually heard in solemn music in groups, e.g. His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts in Monteverdi's Vespers, it will come as a surpise that the tenor sackbut is a flexible, gentle and mellow-toned instrument which goes well with theorbo and harp. Usually I find CD marketing titles unhelpful and avoid them; this one however is spot on and apt for this 16 & 17 C music in which instrumentalists sought to imitate the sound and expression of the human voice, "the purest and most expressive form of music making" [Adam Woolf].
The disc is a joy from beginning to end, with the highest production values from engineers (Huw Morgan & Stephen Saunders) and booklet text and design (Adam woolf an Bridget Saunders).
Peter Grahame Woolf