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Gloria et Malum - Music and dance in fifteenth century Italy
Ensemble Micrologus (Patrizia Bovi (singer, gothic harp), Adolfo Broegg (lute), Goffredo Degli Esposti (tambourine, bombard, pifferi, portative organ), Gabriele Russo (viola, lute, cornemuse), Daniele Bocchini (trombone), Massimiliano Dragoni (dulcimer), Luigi Germini (trombone), Marta Graziolino (harp), Gabriele Miracle (dulcimer), Alessio Nalli (cornemuse), Stefano Vezzani (bombard, cennamella))
rec. 2007, location not specified
track-listing set out at end of review
BARYTON CDM0022 [72.20]

This is a disc of 15th century Italian dance music. A few of the most popular songs of the period are inserted as they often informed or inspired dance improvisations and written pieces. The idea behind the disc is to bring to life a manuscript of descriptions, choreographies if you like, of many of the dances of the day by Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro ‘who spread his innovative insights into the art of dance throughout Italy”. The beautifully presented and quoted booklet notes are by Cheiko Ono.

Many of you will know about ‘Orchesography’ a dance treatise in the form of a colloquy between teacher and pupil written in the 16th century by Thoinot Arbeau. That work was published at the time (1589) and is well known. This Italian manuscript has lain obscure for much of its life and is now brought to life but has no music attached to it. Micrologus have therefore dipped into other contemporary sources two of which were commissioned by Aragonese court in Naples. An instrumental version of Ghizeghem’s De tous biens plaine is a dance entitled Malum. It's a bass-dance, an especially popular form in which the tenor part uses a popular song or melody. This tenor often employs the La Spagna melody as in a version by Francisco de la Torre and used here for a dance called La reale. In another dance, for Gloria of the title read Grolia - another popular bass dance. It refers to the magnificence and grandeur of the Italian courts. Another dance form is the Ballo which was noted for its regular changes of metre as in Belreguardo played here by a pipe and drum.

As you listen through the disc do read the fascinating notes about each dance; the choreography is mentioned in some detail. For instance for the dance Amoroso we read that starting on the left foot “the dance consists of nothing but postured and hastened double steps, which stir the dancer up”. The notes later add that the “sound was born from a shepherd’s oat-grass”. Other dances are often found joined as a group. The ballo Prexonera is a “sweet melody in the pattern “bassadanza-quaternaria-saltarello”. These had clear rules and rhythmic patterns, some in triple time, some in duple, as mentioned earlier.

The composers' names are often given such as Domenico da Piacenza, a famous Dominican dancing master (fl.1470). Then there's a certain Guglielmo, probably his pupil. Dufay’s Franc Coeur gentile is turned into a dance Francho cuore gentile and another rondeau (a popular song form) J’ay pris amour as an instrumental version by Isaac, which begins the CD and the original song which ends it.

The ensemble is joined by singer Patrizia Bovi who also plays the gothic harp. I find her vocal contribution rather ‘run-of-the-mill’ but the instrumental work is extremely varied and attractive from the remaining ten musicians. They play instruments like the cornemuse, that reed instrument you can still hear in Brittany, the bombard which is a double reed instrument, lutes and vielles acting as a contrast. Some are loud instruments for outdoor use, like the piffera another double-reed pipe and indoor ones for a small chamber like the dulcimer.

Micrologus, one of the most enterprising of early music groups has discovered a wealth of little known music here. To my knowledge, although CDs of early dance have never been uncommon, there has not been a recording quite like this with its somewhat rarefied repertoire. Anyone with an interest in late medieval music should search it out. The songs are translated and there are attractive colour photos of the recording sessions.

Gary Higginson

1. J'ay pris amour (H. Isaac) [2:28]
2. De tous biens plaine (H.van Ghiseghem) [4:15]
3. Grolia (Gloria) [3:13]
4. Belreguardo (D.Da Piacenza) [3:24]
5. Marchexana (D.Da Piacenza) [2:41]
6. Malum (Bassadanza su De tous biens plaine) [3:18]
7. La reale (su Alta di la Torre) [2:10]
8. Amoroso (G.E.da Pesaro) [2:17]
9. La fia guielmina/guilmin (D.da Piacenza) [2:48]
10. La crudele (su O partita crudele) [4:00]
11. Amors, amors (H.van Ghiseghem) [6:31]
12. Prexonera (D.da Piacenza) [2:46]
13. Colonnese (J.A. Guglielmo) [4:45]
14. La ingrata (D.da Piacenza) [3:43]
15. Belfiore (D.da Piacenza) [3:07]
16. Francho cuore gentile (G.Dufay) [3:34]
17. Legiadra (G.E. da Pesaro) [4:46]
18. Rotibolo/Rostibuli (D.da Piacenza) [5:37]
19. Voltati in ša Rosina (G.A. Guglielmo) [2:04]
20. Petit vriense (D.da Piacenza) [2:44]
21. J'ay pris amour [2:56]



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