La Golferamma

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Some of the continuo parts on this disc of early seventeenth century Italian organ music are played on small organs. These have been blown manually (by hardworking volunteers), and the booklet notes brag about "noises inherent in the movements of the bellows: rustling of leather, creaking of ropes on pulleys...All this sometimes resembles the groaning and creaking of a ship..." It's that kind of a disc -- low-tech, noisy, and extremely enthusiastic, as far as can be imagined form the flashy brass-ensemble performances that are the norm for the instrumental music of this general time. The pieces here are mostly for two melody parts, plus continuo. Instruments were largely unspecified, but here they are mostly played on cornetts -- not the modern cornet, but an early curved or even snake-like wind instrument that, like the small organs, brings with it a complement of breath noise and other sounds external to that of the apparatus itself. The music is the stuff of Giovanni Gabrieli and of the instrumental interludes in Monteverdi's larger works -- phrases in free rhythms, festooned with flourishes and various expressive devices. The terminology of genres during this period was unstable, and the booklet gives a helpful way of thinking about the procedures composers used as instrumental music began to emerge as an independent thing: a performer-composer (such as the cast of virtual unknowns represented here) might make "diminutions" of an existing tune, filling in its spaces with fast notes and thus creating an instrumental counterpart for the new vocal virtuosity of opera. The composer might exploit the "concerto" style, which in this context meant creating contrasting blocks of sound (the words "concerto" and "concertato" carry the sense of distinct groups joining together). Or the composer might adapt a polyphonic vocal work, making one or two of its lines into instrumental leads and filling in the rest with continuo. Examples of all three types are heard here, and listeners will feel more in touch with the music's creative cutting edge than they would if presented with a dry discussion of what was classified as a sonata or a canzona during this period. Hear Giovanni Battista Riccio's Sonata a doi soprani in echo proposta of 1613 for an example of the "concerto" type. The playing of Le Concert Brisé and its leads William Dongois and Yoshimichi Hamada is relaxed and lively, whether on cornetts, on the very gentle cornetto muto (muted cornett), or on recorder. The variety of continuo instruments is also unusual and of great interest. It includes a regal, or, as they say here, regals -- the word "regal" referred both to a small portable organ and to a specific type of stop, so it could be made plural. If you've never heard one, sample the Riccio sonatas or Salomone Rossi's Sonata sopra "La bergamasca," track 7, to hear its delightful buzzing sound. "La golferamma" is the title of the first work on the album, a sonata by Nicolò Corradini; the annotators do not see fit to translate this rather odd term, but perhaps it means "the woman who lives by the gulf." As a whole, this recording brings this almost unknown and rather forbidding music alive, and it represents the very best kind of results that can be generated from the revival of old instruments and from immersion in their unique sounds.

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