Rolf Lislevand archlute, baroque guitar, theorboe
Arianna Savall triple harp, voice
Pedro Estevan percussion
Bjørn Kjellemyr colascione, double-bass
Guido Morini organ, clavichord
Marco Ambrosini nyckelharpa (viola d’amore a chiavi)
Thor-Harald Johnsen chitarra battente
Recorded October 2004 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Anyone expecting a straight-off rendition of Baroque material from Rolf Lislevand’s ECM debut will, I hope, be pleasantly surprised by this eclectic and immaculately rendered program. Lislevand is that rare musician of early music who tries not to reconstruct that which cannot be reconstructed. Rather, he speaks to the spirit of things, is vitally interested in the intersection between the historical and the personal. Authenticity, we then find, is in this context not about accuracy but about a willingness to open oneself to the possibilities unwritten in a given score.
The titular “nuove musiche” terms a challenge among certain thinkers of the seventeenth century, whose dismissal of sixteenth-century polyphony led to a favoring of the pared-down rhetoric that forms the basis of this recording. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Domenico Pellegrini, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Alessandro Piccinini, Luys de Narváez, Bernardo Gianoncelli are composers who exemplified this nascent attitude, and their music comprises a luscious and life-affirming statement. Writes Lislevand in his liner notes, the nuove musiche “grew out of sound and musical silence in space. As in all music, the musician is forever inseparable from the sound of his instrument or voice. The space in which the sound arises is like the surface on which a picture is drawn: it is the canvas on which a painting emerges, or the time and space from the beginning to the end of a movement in a dance.” This seemingly reduced template did, in fact, enable in the musician greater freedom of improvisatory expression, and it is this spirit that moves every gesture of the present recording. Kapsberger’s Arpeggiata addio sets a tone dripping with atmosphere. From Pedro Estevan’s delicate percussion to Arianna Savall’s wordless voice, flowing over an oceanic ensemble, it haunts as it unfolds. So begins a journey that seems to flow more deeply with every breath taken, every string plucked, every bow drawn. Yet it is Pellegrini, whose masterful explorations of the passacaglia form make up the bulk of the album, who enlivens this program to its highest marks. A smattering of other passacaglias, including a beautiful nugget from Frescobaldi, and the fascinating Toccata cromatica close this crystalline album like a clasp on a locket.
An album this good, this unique, can only feel like a new life, so imbued is it with an innate force that energizes as much as it soothes the weary soul. Lislevand and his ensemble play to the needs of a music that so achingly wants to be heard. The recording sparkles, every trembling on the fingerboard and quiet breath coming through. Some of engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug’s finest work.