The intricate graphics for this release, featuring quotations of everyone from Aristotle to Gilles Deleuze, may make you wonder if your background in philosophy is sufficient for you to listen, but have no fear: the music is delightful, often revelatory, and even fun. The title La morte della Ragione, or The Death of Reason, comes from a poem by Petrarch ("The senses reign, and reason is dead"), interestingly echoed at the beginning of the program by a 16th century anonymous Italian pavane. After that you get instrumental music in a loose chronological ordering, showing the increasing emancipation of instrumental genres from vocal models. One step is the construction of multiple instrumental versions of a vocal model, shown here with the performance of four different versions by Alexander Agricola of the popular chanson De tous biens plaine of Hayne van Ghizeghem. Another was the appearance of abstract instrumental pieces, especially common in England (one major strength of the program here is that it puts English music into a wider European context) with works like the Puzzle Canon of John Dunstable and Upon la re mi, attributed to Thomas Preston. By the late 16th century, instrumental music could be as experimental as anything devised by Mannerist vocal composers. Sample the very little-known Canzone Francese del Principe of Carlo Gesualdo, as wild as any of his late madrigals, or one of the pieces by Giovanni de Macque or Giovan Petro del Buono (neither a commonly heard composer, but both fascinating) called "stravaganze," a term that lasted until Vivaldi's time. Beyond the repertory, the virtuoso playing of director and recorder player Giovanni Antonini and his group Il Giardino Armonico fully puts across the exotic sounds here. They play a large collection of mostly modern instruments, based on Renaissance and Baroque models. The Alpha label contributes the sumptuous hardbound booklet and fine engineering from the main hall at the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland, a venue that sounds as though it would be too large for this music but is not. Highly recommended.
Review by James Manheim