Music for the Eyes: Masques and Fancies

Concerto Scirocco

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Music for the Eyes: Masques and Fancies Review

by James Manheim

One of the many attractions of this release by the ensemble Concerto Scirocco and its director, Giulia Genini, is simply that the music will be new to most listeners. William Byrd and Anthony Holborne are present at the end, but such composers as John Hilton, John Adson, and William Brade are just about unheard. The music is associated with the masque, a court theatrical genre that was a counterpart to the Italian intermedio, combining music and dance in a sumptuous setting with a large and varied musical ensemble. However, the masque had distinctive characteristics, like the opening satirical "anti-masque" that was often present. The Satyrs Masque here is an example of the music for it. The main attraction comprised dances and dance tunes, like the delightful Johney Cock Thy Beaver: A Scotch Tune on a Ground, and more serious pieces like Hugh Ashton's Maske. Liberally sprinkled about are instrumental pieces of various kinds, including pieces by Hilton called Fantazias. These are constantly varied and inventive. Sample the two "divisions," or variation sets, in the middle of the program, both of them anonymous; the first is a counterpart to the ciacona or chaconne, with lovely shifting textures, and the second is a virtuoso piece for recorder. The name of Concerto Scirocco (the "Concerto of the South Wind") is appropriate, for the music here, even as many English models of the day were French, crackles with the new ground bass forms coming from southern Europe. This is, in short, ambitious and varied music that is largely unknown and beautifully played, and it is a welcome sight on classical best-seller charts. The idiomatic sound from Outhere Music, captured in a Swiss hotel hall, is another attraction.

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