Stile Moderno: New Music from the Seventeenth Century

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The "stile moderno" or modern style is usually applied to the new declamatory vocal style that emerged in Italy around 1600. But instrumental music as well as vocal music underwent a revolution around that time, and whether or not a Florentine of the time would have used it, the term "stile moderno" is relevant to the music on this album. On offer here are instrumental sonatas for a small chamber group, mostly from the generation after Girolamo Frescobaldi. Most of the pieces are played by a pair of violins, perhaps a trombone or dulcian (an early bassoon), and a continuo group with several instruments. The composers aren't well known, and such names as Dario Castello and Giovanni Battista Fontana deserve more exposure. The music exploits rapid scalar figures and virtuoso decorations, deployed so as to create sudden dramatic contrasts; these sonatas are very much instrumental counterparts of the music from Monteverdi's Orfeo and its operatic successors. A varied program of instrumental sonatas from this period isn't easy to find, and the album would be worth having on this basis alone. But nothing prepares the listener for the brilliant performances here. Reports have mentioned audiences cheering the ensemble Quicksilver as if they were at a rock concert, and truly there are few other performances that have put across the visceral shock that audiences of the 17th century experienced when hearing the new music of the era. The group brings an urgent rhythmic drive that blows away any sense of the antique, and it wrings strong accents and quite a wide dynamic range out of the instruments. The rock analogy actually does apply to the performances, although they are purely within the realm of historically informed practices. A breakthrough for the early Baroque scene in the U.S., and a hugely enjoyable release.

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