Sonnets project rolls out the big guns of ancient instrument design

Monday is both St George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday, as you may have noticed from the fact we seem to be having a blizzard of Bard-related stuff coinciding with the run-up to what it's hard not to refer to as 'the Jubilympics'.

Actually, it's more of an official birthday – the Swan of Avon may have been baptised on April 26, 1564, but his actual date of birth isn't known. However, he did apparently die on April 23, 1616, so if he was born on April 23, that would have made for a neat, if relatively short – by modern standards - life.

Anyway, to mark what is possibly his 448th birthday, Monday sees the release of a new disc of settings of Shakespeare sonnets, directed by Robert Hollingworth, who won an award from our sister magazine Gramophone for his disc of Striggio's Mass in 40 Parts with his vocal group I Fagiolini.

Mainly recorded at Konk Studios, owned by Ray Davies of the Kinks, the disc features British musicians from a variety of genres performing new arrangements of 11 of the sonnets.

These range from I Fagiolini's acapella rendition of Sonnet 115, here taking its title from the couplet to give the very modern-sounding title Love is a Babe, to perhaps the best-known Sonnet, Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day, performed by Cara Dillon.

You can hear more of the tracks by clicking here, or watch a short video on the project by clicking here.

And yes, you'll probably be wondering what those strange instruments are, along with the familiar stuff(!) such as viols, cornets, sackbuts, curtals, shawms, lutes, a harpsichord, virginals, dulcimer and early trumpet.

Well in there are some amazing replicas of instruments of Shakespeare's time, including the lirone, which is played by Erin Headley.

Rather like a cello, but with the added complication of not four strings but 13, it's fiendishly difficult to play, which is perhaps one reason why it hasn't been heard for hundreds of years.

Also featured is the theorbo (left), played by Lynda Sayce, who also contributes lutes and Renaissance guitars. This instrument is a replica of a 1608 Venetian original now in the Royal College of Music, the jumbo-lute having a neck 2m long and strings of more than 1.7cm.

Shakespeare: The Sonnets is released on Monday, April 23rd by Active Distribution.

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.