Les Voix humaines
Les Voix humaines perform on rare Hart House Viols
News from one of my favorite ensembles.
“The enveloping warmth of the viols … shapes an infinity of textures.” La Scena Musicale
The incomparable Montreal-based viola da gamba (viol) ensemble Les Voix humaines returns to the Toronto Consort’s series at 8:00 pm on October 30 and 31 to perform on the rare, centuries-old set of instruments known as the Hart House viols. The oldest of these viols was made in 1598 by John Rose II, the most famous instrument maker in Renaissance England. In celebration of the 350th anniversary of composer Henry Purcell’s birth, Susie Napper and Margaret Little’s world-renowned gamba duo expands to an ensemble of seven to perform his haunting Fantasias. These concerts mark the first time all six viols have been played together in public in Toronto for more than 30 years. For tickets and information, call (416) 964-6337 or visit www.torontoconsort.org.
The magnificent Hart House viols were acquired in 1929 by former Governor General Vincent Massey, and are now housed at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. The collection of six late-16th, 17th and 18th century instruments was recently evaluated to be worth more than half a million dollars. In addition to their historic and cultural importance, the instruments are objects of great beauty with intricately carved heads on the scrolls.
Following extensive restoration to bring the viols back into playing condition, Les Voix humaines made the first commercial recording of the instruments in 2008 on the ATMA label. The CD featuring Purcell’s Fantasias was described as “a gem of textures and polyphony” (Journal de Montréal). The secret of the instruments’ sound? “The resonance of three-hundred year old wood is something you just don’t find in modern instruments,” explains Napper.
Henry Purcell wrote the fantasias as a young man of 20 during the summer of 1680, in what music scholar Jack Westrup describes as “a fever-heat of enthusiasm and inspiration.” The fantasias push the art of counterpoint to the very limit — a testament to Purcell’s genius.
Les Voix humaines have been thrilling audiences worldwide with performances of early and contemporary music for viols since 1985. The ensemble varies from viola da gamba duo to viol consort to mixed-instrument ensemble. They are renowned for their spectacular arrangements of a wide variety of music, and have become a world reference for the music of Sainte-Colombe, the mysterious composer portrayed in the 1991 film Tous les matins du monde. In 2007 they received an Opus Award for Performers of the Year.
Les Voix humaines have recorded and performed with Wieland and Barthold Kuijken, Charles Daniels, Suzie LeBlanc, Rinat Shaham, Matthew White, Eric Milnes, Skip Sempe and Stephen Stubbs, among others. The October concerts mark the ensemble’s second appearance on the Toronto Consort’s series.