Jon Banks

Pax Romana: Peaceful Music from the Age of Rome

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This release, called Pax Romana and subtitled "Peaceful Music from the Age of Rome," is neither a musicological nor archeological exploration of Roman music. Rather, it claims to "recreate the sounds that might have been heard in a Roman villa in fifth- or sixth-century Europe." What historical evidence this re-creation is based on is not revealed; although the back cover promises "full details" inside, the only details provided are the name of the instruments. Since the CD's accuracy in re-creating the sounds of a Roman villa is uncertain (because it is unknowable), the only remaining relevant question is how well it lives up to its title: peaceful music.

The answer will depend on the listener's preferences. Performed almost entirely on solo stringed instruments -- predominantly harps, with a scattering of lyres, psalteriums, and hammered dulcimers -- the music here is set in modes that sound archaic to ears accustomed to tonality. Most of it is on the slow side, with simple melodies and rhythms, minimal harmony, and little clarity about the musical forms. The listener for whom this sounds peaceful may want to give this disc a try. For the listener for whom it sounds as musically tedious as it is historically dubious, it could be given a pass. CCL's sound is dry, gray, dim, and too close.

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