Alfonso Ferrabasco (the younger) was –despite his name — an English composer and viol virtuoso. He was active in the courts of both Elizabeth I and James I and well-known in the London music scene. His father emigrated to England in 1592 and achieved fame as a madrigalist.

The lyra viol is a member of the viola da gamba family of stringed instruments. Viols superficially resemble modern stringed instruments (which would supplant them). The lyra viola was a small bass viol used almost exclusively in England.

The instrument usually had six strings (although that could vary). The lyra viol also had different sets of tunings, that changed its range and timbre.

The works on this album are all short dance pieces. Ferrabasco specified which tuning to use for each piece. Paulo Biordi has grouped works together by tuning, effectively creating little dance suites.

Biordi is a master of this instrument. His bowings are clean, yielding a pure, sustained tone. The extreme low register never sounds muddy, and the melodies have a singing quality to them.

The album was recorded with two lyra viols; one an original bass viol from 1768, the other a modern reproduction of a 1624 instrument.

What struck me was how great the character of the instrument changed between tunings. The sound could be deep and resonant like a cello, or light and warm like a viola (a modern one, that is).

All in all, a fascinating recording. Highly recommended for fans of Renaissance music.

Alfonso Ferrabasco (The Younger): Lessons for the Solo Lyra Viol
Paulo Biordi: lyra viol
Dynamic CDS 7652