Norwegian lutenist Rolf Lislevand's approach to authentic period performance practice might seem like heresy to the orthodox; he asserts that since we cannot know with certainty how a particular piece of early music was originally performed, the modern performers' goal is not to go to all lengths to try to duplicate an "authentic" performance, but to bring all of their skill, study, and insight to the music and create a personally honest interpretation, even if that means relying more on the performers' intuition than on the written source. He persuasively points to research into Renaissance performance practice that indicates that that was precisely the approach taken by players of the period when performing music of earlier eras. For Lislevand, the fact that the solutions devised by a contemporary performer might bear little resemblance to those devised by Renaissance performers is an inevitability to be celebrated, not lamented. The sixteenth century songs and dances, mostly Italian, Lislevand and his ensemble of instrumentalists and singers perform never lose their identity as products of the Renaissance, but there is a freedom in their performances that sets them apart from the usual. Each piece, no matter how straightforward it might look on paper, is surrounded by a halo of percussion, strings, and voices, sometimes in the foreground, but sometimes barely audible. There is a sense of a community of performers, like a well-oiled improvising jazz group, always listening and thinking, ready to jump into the mix when the musical moment is right, and the result is often exhilarating. Lislevand in fact reveals that at the recording sessions, producer Manfred Eicher would signal for the group to continue playing after a piece was officially complete, and that these free improvisations were the source of exciting musical discoveries that were incorporated into later performances. ECM's sound is characteristically immaculate and immediate; in fact, for some listeners it may be too close, because ancillary instrumental sounds and the players' breathing are often audible. This intriguing and viscerally engaging album should be of interest to fans of early music and to anyone who appreciates intelligent, exciting improvisation.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins