The subtitle "Musical miniatures in Shakespeare's England" isn't a very good description of the contents, which range forward into the seventeenth century and beyond, even including one original composition each by the two main performers. Nor is the title The Devil's Dream helpful to those familiar with the fiddle tune of that name, with which the music here has nothing to do. This is a collection of music by Dowland and various successors, with a program sprinkled liberally with variation pieces or "divisions on a ground." The music is played in the highly expressive style that seems to be gaining favor in the repertoire of the late English Renaissance, an improvement over artificially calm earlier readings. Il Giardino Armonico leader Vittorio Ghielmi plays viols of various kinds, and Luca Pianca, a spawn of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's teaching, plays lutes, Baroque guitar, and the rarer ceterone, a big cittern. Ghielmi takes the position that Dowland's self-proclaimed melancholy is only one of a range of emotions that his music contains -- even just counting the sadder works. He digs into the viol strings, producing sharply rhythmic readings of dance pieces, charismatic virtuoso treatments of the divisions, and a range of moods in the slower works from melancholy to angry. The program is unusually varied, with two-lute pieces (in these Pianca's soberer personality predominates) and a few vocal works breaking up the main flow of the action. Accompanying these two Italian players, recording English music on a Spanish label, is Argentine soprano Graciela Gibelli, who sings English well except for the troublesome phrase "Come, pretty babe" in Byrd's lullaby of that name. Sample Gibelli's unique reading of Dowland's Come, heavy sleep, track 6, for a taste not only of her voice but of the conception of the whole project: she adopts a static, vibrato-less voice production that makes her sound almost like another viol. The entire disc is personal in a way one doesn't normally associate with the repertory but that does present some familiar pieces in new ways. The subjective aspect runs a bit over the banks in the two original compositions by Pianca and Ghielmi, which don't fit with the rest of the music. Nevertheless, this disc will appeal to listeners following how Renaissance music is becoming something for performers to "interpret" just like music of later eras.
The Devil's Dream Review
by James Manheim