The Dowland Project, established by ECM's Manfred Eicher, would not please musical purists; in this installment, Romaria, it brings together an assortment of old and new instruments, including violin, viola, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, tenor and bass recorders, Baroque guitar, and vihuela, performing music spanning nearly a millennium, most of it written before most of these instruments had been developed. The producer and performers may have deliberately chosen to ignore the principle of authentic performance practice, duplicating as closely as possible the sound of the music at the time it was created, but they are principled in the aesthetic decisions they have made. Tenor John Potter writes in the program notes, "…we have tried to keep to the spirit of the originals while at the same time freeing the music of its historical context," adding insightfully, "Musicians have always done this -- done what they could with whatever material comes to hand." For the listener who can embrace the legitimacy of this approach, and listen to the unique combination of sounds on its own terms, the album has much to offer. Potter and the instrumentalists are true to their commitment to "keep to the spirit of the originals," and these arrangements are remarkably chaste. The sound of a clarinet or saxophone discreetly undergirding a chant or monophonic song can create a new, but entirely appropriate-sounding atmospheric halo around the voice. The songs include plainchant, selections from the Carmina Burana manuscript, troubadour songs, works by Josquin Deprez and Orlando di Lasso, and Iberian folk songs collected early in the twentieth century. Potter has a warm, amiable, and unmannered voice, and he sings with great flexibility and naturalness. Instrumentalists Milos Valent on the modern strings, Stephen Stubbs on the ancient strings, and John Surman on the winds play with infinite sensitivity to the material and to each other. The album's mood is largely quiet and serene, but not lulling; for any listener paying attention, these arrangements are subtly, discreetly unpredictable, full of felicitous, unusual textures and unexpected juxtapositions. Strongly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins