Ensemble Syntagma

Rosa e Orticha: Music of the Trecento

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The music of Italy in the 14th century, or Trecento, has received much less attention from medieval performers than the French repertoire of the period, which involved more self-consciously complex traditions. When Italian music is heard, it is mostly by Francesco Landini, the composer most influenced by French styles. Landini appears on this release, but it is mostly devoted to other composers appearing in the primary source for this music, the gorgeous Squarcialupi Codex. Primary among them is the little-known Bartolino da Padova. The title of the album, Rosa e Orticha (Rose and Stinging Nettle), comes from da Padova's madrigal I bei sembianti and symbolizes good and evil that are tied together in a single entity. Sample that work (track 6) for a taste of the whole. Director Alexandre Danilevski, leading the multinational Ensemble Syntagma, relies closely on iconography of the time for his instrumentation, which includes recorders, medieval fiddle, harp, lutes, and the more elusive chekker, an early harpsichord. Most of the songs are in two parts, sung straightforwardly by two sopranos and a countertenor. But this is not really an "authentic" performance. Danilevski's overall approach is speculative, tying in with an odd but elegantly thought out booklet essay (entitled "The World as Hypertext"), bristling with footnotes, that suggests the ideas behind both the performance and the repertoire. The line between sacred and secular is erased, and there's a good deal of instrumental improvisation, both introducing pieces and in freestanding interludes. The stated theme of the program is to represent the passage of the day from dawn to twilight, but this is only a rough outline; the images and ideas running through the music are more important. The basic sound of the music is sweet, and when percussion is deployed in dance pieces it's quiet. There's nothing to put off anyone who likes the sound of medieval music here, and there's an X factor working in the album's favor: you get the feeling that the program would have appealed to medieval listeners themselves.

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