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Rolf LISLEVAND (b. 1961)
Nuove musiche
Sources: Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c. 1575-1661); Domenico Pellegrini (c. 1610-1662); Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638); Luys de Narváez (1500-1555); The Margaret Board Lute Book (c. 1620-1635); Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643); Bernardo Gianoncelli (fl. 1650)
Arpeggiata addio [7:17]
Passacaglia antica I [2:09]
Passacaglia andaluz I [2:35]
Passacaglia antica II [2:03]
Passacaglia cromatica [1:52]
Passacaglia antica III [1:48]
Passacaglia cantus firmus [2:33]
Passacaglia celtica [2:00]
Passacaglia spontanea [4:13]
Passacaglia andaluz II [2:15]
Toccata [5:31]
Passacaglia cantata [4:13]
Corrente [2:18]
Corrente [1:47]
Toccata [2:38]
Ciaccona [2:57]
Toccata cromatica [3:45]
Rolf Lislevand (archlute, baroque guitar, theorbo)
Arianna Savall (triple harp, voice)
Pedro Estevan (percussion)
Bjørn Kjellemyr (colascione, double-bass)
Guido Morini (organ, clavichord)
Marco Ambrosini (nyckelharpa - viola d’amore a chiavi)
Thor-Harald Johnsen (chitarra battente)
rec. Rainbow Studio, Oslo, October 2004
ECM NEW SERIES 1922 [52:15]

You want this CD. You don’t know it yet, and I’ll try and explain why later, but you really do want this CD – trust me, I’m a musician ...
 
That glib and contradictory phrase ‘expect the unexpected’ applies to the ECM label as it applies to almost no other; it certainly applies to this CD. Nuove Musiche is a state of mind, the conception of new artistic expression as it was thought of by a motley collective of scholars, artists and philosophers in Florence at the beginning of the 17th century. The prevailing style of music was declared to be moribund, and the ‘Camerata Fiorentina’ as they called themselves, changed musical history single-handed. The music on this recording is based on the works of composers who were inspired by this new attitude, and if the names Kapsberger, Pellegrini, Piccinini, Narváez, Frescobaldi and Gianoncelli mean anything to you then you are still in for a surprise.
 
Rolf Lislevand has created his own Camerata Fiorentina and, with a few basic rules, thrown the window wide open on the constantly evolving but sometimes stiffly stifling conventions of early music performance practice. I have always been brought up to appreciate sympathy with the materials one employs in whatever artistic pursuit one may be involved in: you can push the boundaries of course, but if, you are binding a book, it should still be useful as a book, no matter how decorative or extravagant the cover. Reading Lislevand’s ‘manifesto’ on performing I find myself in agreement with everything he says, especially: ‘The proper colour and language of a musical style are intimately related to the specific properties of the instrument used.’ I like someone who calls a spade a spade – even someone who calls a spade a handheld short-range loam transportation unit, just as long as he makes beautiful shovels. In early music terms Lislevand is of course re-stating some fairly obvious things, but when a recording like this suddenly leaps out and becomes the only thing you want to hear for a fortnight then a little artistic clarification is useful.
 
So, what are we to make of what he makes of it all? Improvisation is partly the name of the game here, and is the essence of this ensemble’s freshness of approach. ECM’s association with brilliantly improvising jazz musicians is well established, and there are moments on this recording which are almost combo crumpet. Just listen to track 12, the Passacaglia Cantata - the groove in that bass part, and the licks that go over it. Baroque and early music are the only ‘classical’ music forms which are in agreement with this kind of intellectually controlled freedom, having this in common with jazz, where the qualities of the player are equal to, sometimes even greater than, the qualities in the original composition. I leave aside modern compositions which tap into ‘gesture’ as an art form, but which all too often are the lazy or misguided solution to a lack of content. 
 
Lislevand makes an interesting and valid point: ‘To interpret an existing work is to position oneself at a precise moment in history (which) normally entails beginning where the last imagined performance left off ... Reproducing the same performance merely replicates a past performance rather than producing a new and unheard one.’ Lislevand goes on to place the reality of performing in its modern context, with the associations living within its performers, and the realities of modern spaces and technologies. There is no point trying to throw up the dust of the past in an attempt to mould it into the re-creation of a long lost art. Far better to use the abilities and knowledge of talented and well-informed musicians to use the sources of the past to inform the ears of the present.
 
Where does this leave us? If you like Andrew Lawrence-King’s ‘Harp Consort’ then you’ll like this. If you enjoy well written pop music – a bit of Sting for instance, then you will find yourself wanting this as well – sample bass lead tracks 12 and 13 if you want to hear what I mean. If there’s a corner of your brain that is haunted by Laraaji’s ‘Day of Radiance’ or the good bits in Steve Reich’s ‘Electric Counterpoint’, or Nigel Kennedy’s solo in the Adagio of ‘Autumn’ on his 1997 EMI recording, then there are enough moments here to float at least part of your boat. If you can swing to Paco de Lucía’s guitar or have a strange attraction to Uri Caine’s surrealist fusions then you will be interested in what is going on here, and will find yourself pressing ‘play’ again as soon as the last notes have faded away. I’m not suggesting that the music here is really like any of these other artist’s work – just that there are some parts of my brain which are teased in similar ways by what is going on here. Take the first track, Arpeggiata addio, whose yearning, suspended dissonances are threaded by a peculiar scraping percussion, which tickles the folds in your cerebellum like some benign insect while mellifluous plucked strings and a soaring voice make your own heart race in a flood of joy to be alive. How many CDs do you have in your collection which provide this service? A beautifully timed pairing follows, with the solo baroque guitar Passacaglia antica I leading straight into the understated but driving percussion rhythms and flying improvisation in Passacaglia andaluz I. The individual colour of the clavichord is an unusual and valued contribution to the sound of this music, being particularly evident in the Passacaglia cromatica and elsewhere. I suspect its soft sound has been boosted in the mix a little, but who cares about that; or the extra reverb for that matter. Rich harmonic progressions or richly arranged-for simple ones are vital factors in making this music so effective. Listen to the variety in the Passacaglia antica III which leads into the Passacaglia cantus firmus, both with a lonely guitar opening which spreads out into a shimmering ocean of strings in the former, and kicking into an irresistible singing-swinging number in the latter. Passacaglia celtica has an almost Irish folk-like quality, and if you want to know where Purcell had some of his ideas from, the following Passacaglia spontanea will give you food for thought. I’m not so sure about the random sounding percussion and bicycle bells in this last piece, but it’s a Nordic thing – they can’t help it, and I pardon them. Arianna Savall’s singing voice is pure and used sparingly – all to the greater effect when it does appear. The one and only appearance of the portativo organ in the Ciaconna is sheer magic, and I am a great fan of Lislevand’s arrangements in general, increasingly appreciating all those subtle instrumental touches each time I hear them anew.
 
No criticisms then? Well, it is a bit short at a little more than 50 minutes, but there is so much going on here that it’s easy to find yourself willing the thing to finish so that you can play it all over again. I suspect that there are very few of you out there that will dislike the actual recording, which is of course up to ECM’s usual immaculately succulent standards. Possibly only of those among you who insist on sitting in the dark listening to Furtwängler’s Ring cycle (in mono) again during Prom season will turn your noses up, but I’m not trying to convert lost causes. You really want this CD – I’m telling you, but you don’t really want as much as need it – you’ll certainly find yourself taking a fix on a regular basis once you have it!
 
Dominy Clements
 

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