Rolf Lislevand: Diminuito (ECM New Series 2088)


Rolf Lislevand

Rolf Lislevand lutes, vihuela de mano
Linn Andrea Fuglseth voice
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
Recorded October 2007 and May 2008 at Propstei St. Gerold

“To my way of thinking, reconstructions are fairly boring. Do we really want to pretend that nothing happened in music between 1550 and today? I think that would be intellectually dishonest. And the notion that people did not deal freely with their feelings until today is not only naive but arrogant.”
–Rolf Lislevand

For their second ECM album, following in the enormous footsteps of the fabulously received Nuovo Musiche, Norweigan lutenist Rolf Lislevand and his ensemble have pulled out all the stops. In polishing these tenacious gems of the Italian Renaissance to a fine sheen for a 21st-century audience, Lislevand has achieved a delicate balance between an illusory authenticity and the finely wrought mesh of his near-obsessive renewal process. The album’s title refers to a practice, common among the composers represented here, of adding ornaments to intabulations of popular madrigals and chansons. Because the melodies being altered would have been familiar to a 16th-century audience but not to a contemporary one, Lislevand has essentially mapped the source melodies onto their flashier counterparts, so that in the end we get a sort of conversation between source and adaptation made manifest in sound and performance.

The Ricercata prima of Vincenzo Capirola (1474 – after 1578) is an enchanting commencement, rendered all the more so for its wordless vocals and emphatic little chime. It is taken from the Capirola Lutebook, a vastly important document in the literature for its technical acuity and didactic pleasures. The works of Joan Ambrosio Dalza (fl. 1508) also survive as a testament to the early development of Renaissance luteny. His Saltarello and Piva make for two of the strongest showings on this altogether fine disc. The saltarello is a lively dance form dating back to the thirteenth century, while the piva was a popular basse (or “low”) dance at court in Dalza’s time. One could hardly ask for finer examples of either, and both scintillate in Lislevand’s invigorating arrangements. Giovanni Antonio Terzi (1560 – 1620) was more vocally inclined, as evidenced by the playful Petit Jacquet, a setting of the chanson by Jean Courtois. Although the words were not so fortunate as to survive, Lislevand simply wrote up his own: Little Jacquet is lost. Little Jacquet is out of sight, they have searched for him all over the place. He drives us crazy. The accompanying rhythmic twists seem to mimic Jacquet’s pitiful state, as well as the confusion his disappearance has caused. Susanne un jour is Terzi’s lute rendition of the chanson by Orlande de Lassus, telling the almost tragic tale of a Jewish woman falsely accused of adultery by two lecherous Babylonian elders when their advances toward are met with her vehement refusal. The last of the Terzi selections is a series of diminutions on Palestrina’s angelic Vestiva i colli and is easily the most beautiful piece on the album. Another standout moment in this eclectic program can be found in the form of La perra mora. Boisterous and joyful, this anonymous piece comes alive with the passionate exposition of its players.

Francesco Canova da Milano (1497 – 1543) was perhaps the most highly regarded lutenist of the sixteenth century. La Spagna, a popular dance tune of the day, saw its title headed by many composers, but of these da Milano’s version in canon was the most enduring, as one can clearly hear. The Recercada settima of Diego Ortiz (c. 1510 – c. 1570) is a sprightly romanesca and comes from a composer whose extant works consist mainly of music for viola da gamba and a large collection of sacred polyphony. His Recercada segunda is a carnivalesque romp through a crowded piazza and the Recercada quinta is a tour de force of virtuosic runs and varied articulation. Thomas Robinson (fl. 1600) is the only English composer represented here, and his Passamezzo Galliard is a stately air that is far from out of place among its present company. Alondo Mudarra (1510-1580), being a Spanish composer, was a proponent of the vihuela, and as such brings an attractive flavor to an otherwise lute-dominated course. His Fantasía que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico sets a piece for harp by the enigmatic “Ludovico el del arpa,” minstrel to Ferrando III of Aragón. The anonymous Tourdion, with its echoes of bagpipes and jigs of the northern isles, brings the album to an exhilarating climax.

Diminuito is bathed in the lush acoustics of St. Gerold and sounds absolutely spectacular. The vocal presence of Trio Mediaeval’s Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Anna Maria Friman is to the album’s overwhelming credit, helping to recapture a bygone spirit in territories that instruments alone can only dream of traversing. The accompaniment as a whole is spot-on (the percussionists’ negotiation of inherent hemiolas adds an especially dramatic punch) and one could never praise Lislevand enough for his dynamic sensitivity. This is an album that opens itself further with every listen and one to be cherished for a lifetime.

One thought on “Rolf Lislevand: Diminuito (ECM New Series 2088)

  1. I keep trying to vote five stars, but am not allowed to do so.

    I have both this and Nuovo Musiche, and this strikes me on a more fundamental level than its predecessor. It’s as loose and spontaneous as a “live at the Village Vanguard” session. Cheers aplenty to Mr. Lislevand. It’s about time someone breathed life into ancient music by refusing to regard it as a precious, overly revered, dusty museum piece. The music was new and lively at its creation, and, at last, once again on this recording.

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