Vincenzo CAPIROLA (1474-after 1548)
Ricercata prima [5:02]
Joan Ambrisio DALZA (fl. 1508)
Saltarello [2:35]; Piva [3:57]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI (fl. 1580-1600)/Diego ORTIZ (c.1510-c.1570)
Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars [9:43]
La perra mora [4:26]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI/Diego ORTIZ
Susanne un jour/ Recercada Settima [10:15]
Francesco da MILANO (1497-1543)/Thomas ROBINSON (fl. 1589-1609)/Diego ORTIZ
Canon, La Spagna/Passamezzo Gaillard/Recercada segunda [6:09]
Alonso MUDARRA (c.1510-1580)
Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico [5:14]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI/Diego ORTIZ
Vestiva i colli/Recercada quinta [6:30]
Tourdion [4:15]
Rolf Lislevand (lutes, vihuela de mano); Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Anna Maria Friman (voice); Giovanna Pessi (triple harp); Marco Ambrosini (nyckelharpa); Thor-Harald Johnsen (chitarra battente, vihuela de mano, lutes); Michael Behringer (clavichord, organ); Bjørn Kjellemyr (colascione); David Mayoral (percussion)
rec. October 2007 and May 2008, Propstei St. Gerold
ECM NEW SERIES 2088 [58:11]

“ You want this CD - trust me, I’m a musician....” was my summing up of the last ECM disc from Rolf Lislevand, Nuove musiche. As far as I’m concerned, the same is true of his Diminuito.

It’s a funny thing, but have you noticed that, on hearing or discovering a ‘new’ word, it will start cropping up all over the place? It’s like the motorist who learned the word Asphalt, and then found it in front of or following him all over the place. But enough hardcore humour: still under the spell of Rolf Lislevand’s version of the Arpeggiata addio I was at a VIP gig not long after, and heard the thing played on a renaissance harp as accompaniment to the expensive wines and hors d’oeuvres - not so obscure after all. Having been bowled over and still remaining entranced by Lislevand’s Nuove musiche album I did a rare thing, and begged and pleaded our avuncular and indefatigable editor Len for this disc. I’m a big fan of the ECM label anyway, and have been since the early years, but I hadn’t realised they have been going since 1969 - the ‘ECM 40 years’ stickers only now filtering into my little corner of sunny Europe.

Diminuito is a slightly less ‘funky’ album than Nuove musiche, but still approaches old music as something alive and relevant to our times, and suffers no lack of the truly groovy. Lislevand focuses here on the Italian Renaissance, and unique musical features from this period in the 1500s. As with some jazz musical improvisation today, diminution was/is the practice of taking a relatively simple theme or harmonic progression, and using it as the servant to ever more complex embellishments, shortening or diminishing the rhythmic note values over the duration of the performance. There are plenty of parallels for this in other ancient music sources such as Indian raga and the like. We Europeans later churned out frequently rather boring sets of variations as a quasi-extension of this line, but a well executed improvisation in almost any context will often hark back to techniques which are represented with superb refinement on this recording.

Instead of the Rainbow Studios used for the older album, Diminuito is set in another ECM favorite location, the Propstei St. Gerold. This has proved excellent for early music in a number of recordings, and the same goes for Rolf Lislevand’s band. Judging by the relative volume of the instruments I do have the feeling that a certain amount of balance manipulation will have gone on, but with an excess of ‘effect’ being one of the criticisms of Nuove musiche, this recording does have a more natural feel, even though the ear is clearly being given an ‘ideal’ sound picture rather than the effect of a concert registration. I don’t mind this personally, and thoroughly enjoy the way the delicate sonorities of all these remarkable instruments are brought forth like the most marvellous box of toys imaginable. When introduced the voices are float ethereally over the top and can be a bit new-agey, but this agrees with the religious feel of a number of the pieces. When the real counterpoint kicks in as with the final Tourdion the singers have plenty of fun and true equality with the instruments in a version some of whose harmonic progressions “no serious scholar would ever approve.”

Lislevand’s central sound is still that of plucked strings - harps, lutes and renaissance guitars, harps. As mentioned, the interpretations have the feel of being a little closer to what we might expect from more ‘straight’ interpretations of this music. There is a wonderful effect of sympathetic strings gently plucking a halo of sound around the main theme of Alonso Madurra’s Fantasia which may stretch authentic credibility, but who cares, it’s beautiful. Percussion is used sparingly but to great effect, the low bell-like thrumming which starts to underpin the developing canons in this same piece further on at 2:43 becomes a moment which the ear anticipates and relishes. This world of saintly subtlety is also infused with some moments of superb fun. The central track, La perra mora or ‘Moorish Dog’ is my personal favourite in this regard with a bass solo dropped in from ‘Blackadder’, its line followed by the organ with a Frank Zappa-like feel for extra nuance. Other swinging dance numbers include the lilting Saltarello which moves, Eurovision song-like, up a tone directly into the Piva, whipping up plenty of frenzy by the end. Chunky bass lines and a kickin’ organ solo later on are both features of the Quinta pars, elegantly set up by Petit Jacquet. Part of Lislevand’s success with these pieces is the way in which they are combined and conjoined, becoming “the body of a symphonic or theatric musical form.” Lislevand’s own booklet notes may have some idiomatic strangeness, but he clearly knows what he’s talking about, and conveys his intention and the context of the music very effectively. Improvisatory moments such as within the ‘12 inch’ version of Susanne un jour/Recercada settima grow from the musical material in such an organic and sensitively sympathetic way that the ear and mind become as absorbed as if you were playing your own instrument - as if the perception of the music is that secret dimension which brings it to life, conjuring it actively rather than consuming it passively.

Great fun and infinitely satisfying, this is a CD I would recommend to all. I have no doubt there will be early music specialists who may turn their noses up at some of Lislevand’s ideas, but I’d rather have spine-tinglingly gorgeous and invigoratingly inspirational over any academic idea of what might or might not have been done in the times this music was first put to use. I have a sneaking feeling those composers would agree, and even if I’m wrong, that feeling makes this disc transcend its asking price.

Dominy Clements

Transcendent music making - and great fun as well. ... see Full Review