Italy's Tactus label, here employing the services of the Schola Cantorum di Santa Giustina and Daphne Ensemble, has specialized in neglected repertoire, mostly of the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Here, as elsewhere in the label's catalog, you don't get anything resembling cutting-edge performance, but if you're seriously interested in early music, you do get to hear music that's unavailable anywhere else. Ludovico Balbi, born around 1545, was a contemporary of the Gabrielis, trained in Venice but mostly employed in the smaller cities of northeastern Italy whose musical repertories have been little investigated. The Balbi pieces on this recording present a selection from a manuscript at the cathedral in the mountain town of Feltre. The choral pieces are interspersed with organ music, both between them and within the verses of the longer pieces. When you hear the magnificent elevation toccata by Frescobaldi (track 11), very nicely played on a small Renaissance organ by Stefano Lorenzetti, you realize why Frescobaldi is remembered while Balbi has been forgotten, and indeed why he bounced around quite a bit during his own career; Balbi's choral style is basically cautious, with only limited experimentation with the expressive monodic style that was taking shape at the time and that would give birth to opera. Yet there are interesting details here. Most intriguing of all is the resurrection, claimed to be unique to this album and quite probably so, of an old practice whereby lines of chant would be sung along with the passages of organ music in which they are paraphrased. You can hear this rather unearthly effect in the Frescobaldi piece marked Recercar con obbligati di cantar V parte (track 4), and again in Balbi's Magnficat (track 12), which is performed with organ "verses" by a different composer. The varied sounds involved in the performance suggest many avenues to future performers, and the experimental quality of the entire effort recommends it to Renaissance performers and aficionados.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim