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Ratas del Viejo Mundo/Flois de Rycker
rec. 2018, Notre-Dame de l’Assumption de Luzanet, Montréal-du-Gers, France
RAMÉE RAM1808 [53.40]

You might be excused for not having heard of the six members that make up the group ‘Ratas Viejo mundo’ and you might also be excused for scratching your head at translating their name; yes, it does mean ‘Old World Rodents’ or ‘Rats’. And ‘Ossesso’ really means to be ‘obsessed’ exemplified, the notes by director Floris De Rycker tell us, by the lives of at least two Renaissance composers represented here: Carlo Gesualdo and Bartolomeo Tromboncino, both of whom got away with the murder of a lover. It could be argued that other composers on this disc seem possibly to have been obsessive when you get into their music - perhaps the dark Giaches de Wert, represented by his wonderful and well-known madrigal Giunto alla tomba and the incredibly prolific Orlando Lassus, whose ardent Vivo sol di speranza ends the disc on a reflective note.

Anyway, looking down the recorded list you could also be forgiven if you felt that the programme was a bit of a dog’s breakfast with little to link either the order of pieces or the wide-ranging period of c.1350-c.1610. Arguably, the pieces could act as a useful introduction to medieval and Renaissance music for those new to it, but young people don’t tend to buy CDs like this, so I’m not sure what kind of audience ‘Ratas’ are aiming at = but we must move on and explore their approach.

The first thing you must come to terms with, is the building the recording has been made in - a seemingly vast and cavernous vaulted space - and the voices; after all, there are only four of them, but they sound like a large choir. The church concerned is pictured within and looks a little overgrown, but no doubt its remoteness gave the performers the much-needed space for meditation and silence. The second point to note is the harsher vocal quality sometimes employed by Indré Jurgelviciute, as in Waelrant’s Vorria morire. She also plays an instrument named as a kanklés, which is a Lithuanian box zither from her homeland. The several vocal items are broken up by colourful instrumental interludes using psaltery, cittern and various lutes - in other words, quiet, indoor instruments. The third point to note is the shorter than usual playing time. Anything less than an hour does seem to be a little under par for the consumer, I feel. Finally, there is the use of these instruments accompanying, and indeed improvising, generally discreetly, counterpoint above the voices, as in the wonderful rendition of Gesualdo’s Già piansi nel dolore.

The connecting link between these seemingly disparate pieces is, as the notes tell us, “jealousy, tenderness, loneliness and longing, desire, unattainability, sensuality, frustration, love, lust and loss”, and these can be summed up in O gelosia by Alonso Mudarra: “ O jealousy, hideous check of lovers,/that entwines and grips me so tight in one place,/O sister of terrible, cruel death/who with your glance clouds over the clear sky”.

I love the generous acoustic and the strong quality of the recording, and I especially like the use of these gentle instruments and the overall atmosphere of the disc; I just wish that it had been a little more focused in its programming. However, there is some wonderfully expressive, as well as energetic and agile, singing here, and some fine music making all round.

I often like to leave readers with my personal highlights: the Lassus and the Wert madrigals certainly, but also the unique opportunity to hear music by some rare composers including Guglielmo da Pesaro who, it seems was an Italian Jew renowned as a dancing master, and also the Piva by Joan Dalza, which has come down to us in lute tablature but is here arranged for the string instruments.

The essay is something of a curiosity but all the texts are given and well translated.
Gary Higginson

Adrian WILLAERT (c.1490-1562) I vidi in terra angelica [5.04]
Jacopo da BOLOGNA (c. fl1340-1360) O cieco mondo [1.35]
Donato da FIRENZE (fl.c1350-1360) I ‘fu gia bianche’ucciel [2.05]
Ivo BERRY (flc,1525-50) Pace non trovo [4.33]
Jacob ARCADELT (c.1507-1568) Ahimè, dov’è’l bel viso [2.18]
Guglielmo Ebreo DA PESARO (c.1420-1484) Amoroso [2.05]
Alonso MUDARRA (c.1510-1580) O gelosia [2.32]
ANON: Chiara Fontana [1.14]
Vincenzo GALILEI (c.1525-1591) Duo tutti di fantasia [1.28]
Filippo de MONTE (1521-1603] Di mie dogliose note [3.07]
Francesco Canova DA MILANO (1497-1543) Ricercare [1.47]
ANON: Bassa Danza [1.41]
Vincenzo GALILEI: Contrapunto [2.04]
Hubert WAELRANT (c.1517-1595) Vorria morire [1.37]
Friulian Melody: Scjaraçule maraçule [1.05]
Joan Ambrosio DALZA ( fl.c.1508) Piva [2.36]
Carlo GESUALDO (1566-1613) Gia piansi nel dolore [2.35]
Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (c.1470-after 1534) Seben hor non scopo il foco [3.12]
Michelagnolo GALILEI (c.1575-1631] Toccata [1.23]
Giaches de WERT (1535-1596) Giunto alla tomba [5.18]
ANON: Su la rivera [2.01]
Orlando di LASSUS (1532-1594) Vivo sol di speranza [2.07]

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