Guido MORINI (b. 1959)
Una Odissea (2002) [61:21]
Marco Beasley (voice), Guido Morini (harpsichord, piano),
Alfio Antico (tambourines, voice)
The Netherlands Blazers Ensemble
rec. live, 25 January 2002, Muziekcentrum Frits Philips, Eindhoven and 27 January 2002, Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht.
NBECD010 [61:21]

Guido MORINI (b. 1959)
Una Iliade (2008) [68:15]
Marco Beasley (voice), Guido Morini (piano)
The Hilliard Ensemble
The Netherlands Blazers Ensemble
rec. live, 1-2 February 2009, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam.
NBECD024 [68:15]

The Netherlands Blazers, or Wind Ensemble as it used to be, has been an ambassador for fine wind playing and interesting contemporary music for donkey’s years. Originally formed in 1959 from members of the leading Dutch orchestras of the day, it still maintains a tradition of adventurous programming, and a distinctively resonant sound derived from impeccable intonation and unity of musical sensitivities and artistic purpose. Guido Morini was also originally formed in 1959 and, having specialised in early music with studies in harpsichord and organ, he moved on through making arrangements to create original compositions using early music as a source of inspiration. Both Una Odissa and Una Iliade are examples of this approach.

Written in collaboration with vocal soloist Marco Beasley, Una Odissa has as its main source Cafy’s poem Ithaca. This odyssey is both an inner journey, personified in the figure of Nobody, who sits on a beach and reflects on past adventures, as well as an exploration of the emotions and sensations which, once trivial, now take on a greater significance. The music is something of a mixture. There is plenty of convincingly arranged numbers in ancient orchestral style, the winds of the NBE given the added sonorities and sparkle of a harpsichord. Some numbers are in more of a romantic Italian ballad style, the Canzone Dicitencello vuje for instance, which with piano accompaniment is a love song more in the style of Jacques Brel or Nino Rota. This kind of sentimentality sits a little uneasily with the juicy antique orchestrations of other arias, the immediately following Isola being a case in point. Such emotional freedom is however very much the ownership of Morini and Beasley, and the conviction in the performance easily overrides any idiomatic unrest caused by jumping from Monteverdi to Mantovani, and in fact points out more the similarities between the old and the new rather than throwing up muso-semantic barriers.

The percussion of Afio Antico is an intriguing element in this piece. He doesn’t appear until track 12, but conjures a Storm at Sea with what sounds like a collection of tambourines of different sizes and tone. A five minute drum solo wouldn’t normally be cause for celebration in any context, but the depth of sound and variety Antico reaches in his improvisation makes for fascinating listening. The following section In Circe’s Cave, with a dark presence hamming up fatal spells and incantations is great fun, ending in a devilish tarantella with a bit of The Barber of Seville thrown in. With the emotional boxes ticked in the affecting Sei tu il mio viaggio this is the kind of drama which covers all of the bases you would expect from early opera. The up to date ‘amplification’ of simple numbers like the final Lettera da Itaca serve to heighten this effect.

Written five years later, Una Iliade is sort-of ‘more of same but different’. This Iliad begins with the Hilliard Ensemble in fine voice, the opening section of the Prologo a mixture of Arvo Pärt and barbershop. Four minutes in and there are further diversions, the clash of styles more extreme than in Una Odissea. Marco Beasley’s libretto is “not the story of the Iliad, but the story of the many stories that spring from the Iliad... Between them, [a variety of protagonists] weave a rich tapestry of stories that let audiences experience episodes from the Iliad from different perspectives.”

These shifting perspectives permeate the score as much as they do the libretto. We are sometimes hearing something which might have dropped in from a modern musical, classical music jostles with sentimental ballads, the occasional whiff of light atonality and statuesque presence of pre-baroque madrigals. This is something which I at first found harder to stomach than the more consistently antique and folksy Una Odissea, and the earlier work does hang together better as a dramatic whole. There are plenty of lovely moments of course, and the Hilliard Ensemble always projects its own special qualities. There are good fun movements as well, though the infectious contradictory bounce of The Judgment of Zeus comes as something of a surprise. The NBE plays out of it skin in these sorts of numbers, even providing some quite convincing jazz-style playing. In the end this is where Guido Morini’s strengths lie. He can entertain and wrong-foot your expectations at the same time, and in this Una Iliade is eminently successful. Whether it stands as a valuable contribution to anything in particular only time will tell: I suspect it doesn’t, but I have no doubt it will be resurrected as a popular concert work in years to come.

Both of these discs are very well presented with foldout cases colourful booklets. They are also very well recorded, with audience noise cropping up fairly inoffensively only in Una Odissea. I recommend this wholeheartedly to those prepared to explore a modern view of early musical style combined with some nicely lyrical Italian songs. Una Iliada is to my mind rather less effective on the whole, though if you are prepared to throw intellectual prejudice overboard and allow yourself to be carried along for a superbly performed ride then you will almost certainly come out the other side feeling you’ve had very good value for money. The NBELIVE label’s motto is ‘For those who were there, or wished they were’, and both of these discs have me wishing I went out more.

Dominy Clements

Effective and highly entertaining.