Robert Hollingworth / I Fagiolini

Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible

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The attempt to draw correspondences between music and art is fraught with difficulty, for it involves philosophical questions that are unlikely to be solved within the scope of a single album. It works best when the lens is strong enough to permit extreme detail, as in the series of albums released in the early 2000s on the Alpha label, or, conversely, when the correspondences are drawn in very broad strokes. The latter happens here; the vocal group I Fagiolini, which has performed this music in live multimedia presentations, offers only one work from Leonardo's lifetime, the Agnus Dei from the Missa l'homme armé sexti toni. "Josquin and Leonardo would surely have known each other in Milan, creating one probably real-life art/music connection on this otherwise fantasy recording," the performers note. The rest of the program extends as far forward as Edmund Rubbra, and draws connections with Leonardo only at the most general level of subject matter. This is not a bad thing: the pieces chosen are quite evocative of their painting models even though they are completely ahistorical. Once this is accepted, the album becomes a lot of fun. The aforementioned Agnus Dei is paired charmingly with the first of six knot design engravings attributed to Leonardo (the image is held in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C). The Mona Lisa is here, paired with a Monteverdi madrigal, Era l'anima mia (from Book V). The rationale given ("Whilst other composers puffed and panted in their modernity and increasingly gestural writing... Monteverdi embodied emotion through his combination of naturalistic delivery of the text") connects with the listener. Perhaps I Fagiolini get a bit too cute with their vocalise fugue from Bach's The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 (it's likened to the Vitruvian Man drawing, which is more of a stretch than the other selections), but in general this is an enjoyable release that ought to find plenty of applications in university or school art or music classes.

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