Paolo Pandolfo


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Paolo Pandolfo is a virtuoso on the viola da gamba, and his usual repertoire includes the Bach cello suites. But he is also a passionate advocate of the art of improvisation, and this CD is devoted to 15 pieces that he and an ensemble including harpsichord, organ, theorbo, vihuela, violone, and voice improvised together. The concept of a classical musician improvising in this day and age is, if not unheard of, extremely rare. It makes sense that if anyone did, it would be specialists in Renaissance and Baroque music who are used to playing from scores that are often mere sketches or frameworks, waiting for performers to flesh them out. What's so astonishing about these improvisations is how assured they sound -- not like improvisations at all, but like carefully crafted compositions. Pandolfo and his collaborators are obviously highly skilled and disciplined musicians intimately familiar with the conventions of Renaissance and Baroque music. Most of the pieces sound like period dances that very occasionally stray from the melodic and tonal conventions of those eras, with a quirky mix of percussion that sounds entirely appropriate. Some are free-form toccatas and some are songs. They are unified by their freedom and the performers' assurance. What they achieve must surely be in the spirit, if not in all the details, of performances of 400-500 years ago. This is an altogether remarkable album and should be of strong interest to fans of improvisation and/or early music.

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