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From the Ground Up – The Chaconne
Samuel West (reader)
Luciana Mancini (mezzo soprano)
O/Modernt/Hugo Ticciati (violin/artistic director)
rec. 2018, Air Studios, London; Musikaliska, Stockholm; Wyastone Leys, Monmouthshire; Wathan Hall, London

Did you know that the chaconne, that most polite of baroque forms, had its origins as a sexy dance imported from Spain to the New World? That’s only one of a myriad of things you’ll learn in this most interesting disc, which is part concert and part concept album, and if it lost me a little towards the end then that doesn’t detract from some very successful elements.

The chaconne, around which this disc pivots, is a series of variations on a repeating ground bass. It’s most frequently associated with the music of the baroque, but this collection shows that there’s plenty of life in it yet, ranging as it does back into the form’s origins through to whole new ones composed (and, in some cases, improvised) especially for this collection.

This is a very effective group of musicians to do the work. Violinist Hugo Ticciati founded O/Modernt off the back of a festival that he runs in Sweden (the title means “Unmodern”) and their purpose is to explore the connections between established works and new ones. In fact, this disc comes tenuously off the back of one of their festivals which took Purcell’s ground basses as their starting point for exploration.

So what we have is a group of expert individuals who want to explore new things, and they do it very well. Ticciati himself bears the brunt of the core classical repertoire with the famous chaconne from Bach’s second partita, which alone takes up a quarter of the disc’s running time. It’s played with a skilled technique that encompasses legato and fragmentary rumination, and it’s an impressive feat in itself.

The real interest on the disc is elsewhere, though. Four seventeenth century Hispanic numbers bring us back to the form’s very origins, and they’re not only played with marvellous flair but with a real sense of period flavour, helped by the smoky mezzo of Luciana Mancini in a pair of very sexy songs. Alberto Mesirca plays a movement from Bogdanović’s Suite Breve with such improvisatory flair that I couldn’t instantly recognise it as a chaconne at all. Purcell’s G minor Chacony is given a sweet-toned performance, and I really liked Johannes Marmén’s new composition, with its keening strings and throbbing percussion.

However, the disc lost me when it got to the brand new things. There are three improvisations (Ground, Breath, Being) which, for me, didn’t amount to very much, despite the use of harmonic singing, about which the booklet notes get very excited but sounded less interesting than the twinkling guitar lines.

Furthermore, the disc finishes with three “Remixes” which are musically interesting enough (there’s a great take on Dido’s Lament), but there are some spoken elements that left me somewhat baffled. Sam West recites some Shakespeare, which is perfectly fine but a little mystifying in the context. Baba Israel then comes in with some beat poetry, which is interesting enough, but its references to Trump and Brexit already sound very dated, and seem to take away from the intrinsic musical value of what we’re hearing.

Not quite an opportunity squandered, then, and there are plenty of things that are commendable; but potential not quite fulfilled, I’d say. Still, Ticciati and his ensemble deserve high marks for their idea and, with some more skilfully planned execution, they could do something more completely exciting in future. Top marks for presentation, which takes place in a hardback book, with some beautiful photographs and several exploratory essays, as well as the texts and translations of the two songs.

Simon Thompson

Sound the Trumpet [0:48]
Ground (Improvisation) [1:42]
Armoniosi concerti sopra la chitarra spagnuola: Chiaccona in parte variate alla vera spagnuola (Domenico Pellegrini) [4:12]
Yo soy la locura [2:25]
Suite Breve: IV. Chaconne (Dušan Bogdanović) [1:41]
Vuestros ojos tienen d’amor no sé qué [2:21]
Intavolatura per Liuto et di Chitarrone, I libro: Ciaccona in partite variate (Alessandro Piccinini)[1:28]
Partita in D Minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1004: Ciaccona (Johann Sebastian Bach) [14:04]
Being (Improvisation) [2:26]
Chacony in G Minor, Z. 730 (Henry Purcell) [4:49]
Breath (Improvisation) [1:35]
Inside One Breath (Johannes Marmen) [5:41]
Chaconne Ground in D Minor Remix (Baba Israel, after Purcell) [3:59]
Dido’s Lament Remix (Baba Israel, after Purcell) [4:31]
Two Grounds in C Minor Remix (Baba Israel, after Purcell) [3:34]

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