Jacopo da Bologna is one of the earliest polyphonic composers about whom we sort of know something. We have his portrait in the form of a miniature, which reveals he was not a man of the cloth like the average fourteenth century musician, but a layman, and that suits the music Jacopo left us, almost none of which is sacred. We know of some of his professional engagements and it is postulated that he was teacher to Francesco Landini, the leading light of the Italian trecento. We can read a treatise Jacopo wrote on music and note that he was the only composer to set a Petrarch sonnet to music whilst Petrarch himself still lived. In spite of all this, it is difficult to appreciate what is important about Jacopo's music just by virtue of listening to it; it sounds primitive, and as it is most often anthologized it invariably suffers in the company of the music of his contemporaries, particularly Landini.
However, it is not time to write off Jacopo just yet, as La Reverdie appears to have found the key to assessing his great strengths as a figure in the trecento. Jacopo left about 40 works -- including keyboard intabulations that were like arrangements likely made by others -- and just about half of them are heard on Arcana's Jacopo da Bologna: Madrigali e Cacce. This project takes a varied approach to realizing Jacopo's limited contrapuntal resources -- which never exceed three voices -- through judicious use of instruments and sometimes adding fifths to the tenor or drones in places where Jacopo's original is a little naked. The fuller harmonic profile exposes several features not fully understood before in Jacopo's music; for example, the "under third" or "Landini cadence" makes an appearance in the madrigal In verde prato and many other aspects of the connectedness between Jacopo and Landini are made clear. Likewise, La Reverdie's dogged detective work manages to extract links to other musicians within his circle -- such as Magister Piero and Giovanni de Cascia -- by decoding the acrostics within his texts, which likewise lead outward to notable persons in the courts where he worked.
All of this informs La Reverdie's music-making, which is consummately professional, scrupulously rehearsed, and yet spirited and spontaneous. Arcana's recording is spacious, yet present, and the programming leads very sensibly from one performance to the next. Arcana's Jacopo da Bologna: Madrigali e Cacce is a superb exposition on a composer who has heretofore remained a mystery to most; Landini himself might have been envious of the quality of this recital.