Vittorio Ghielmi

Henry Purcell

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Viola da gamba player Vittorio Ghielmi is the founder of the viol consort Il Suonar Parlante, which plays Purcell's Fantazias of Four Parts, mostly written in 1680. At that time, the viol was on the way to being considered an archaic instrument, having been largely replaced by the fretless members of the violin family. A consort of viols, though, was still the most convenient ensemble for playing contrapuntal music, and Purcell needed an outlet for adventurous self-expression as a break from his duties of writing conventional dance music for King Charles II. The fantasias he wrote are indeed very odd, particularly in their chromatic harmonies, many of which would not reappear with regularity in the Western musical vocabulary until the twentieth century. They are richly varied in their moods and styles, from the dark and balefully somber to the playfully capricious, often within the same piece, and the odd juxtapositions, transformations, and excursions make for an intriguing listening experience. Il Suonar Parlante uses the broad timbral palette of which viols are capable to play the fantasias with careful attention the character of each. Fantazia 30th of June 1680, which opens the collection, begins with enough brusque, visceral vigor to be genuinely startling. In other places the viols have the delicacy and refinement (nearly) of a string quartet, and sometimes the tone quality is ghostly and ephemeral. The players approach this quirky repertoire with exceptional virtuosity and understanding and are able to bring out the musical logic of even the most eccentric fantasias. The sound is exceptionally vibrant; the listener has the impression of being surrounded by the players, close enough to touch them. This is not a CD one would put on as background music, but it rewards attentive listening.

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