The Philadelphia-based early music ensemble Piffaro, which has been around since 1982, has recorded a variety of CDs of Renaissance instrumental music from France, Flanders, Italy, Germany, and Spain, and here turns its attention to English music of the period. The collection includes some instrumental dances and instrumental works by Byrd, John Mundy, Clement Woodcock, and Robert Jones, but consists largely of transcriptions of vocal works, particularly madrigals by Thomas Weelkes and sacred music by Byrd and Tallis. (There are also two vocal pieces, humorous ballads lustily sung by ensemble member Grant Herreid.) Whereas some early music groups take the received notation as a point of departure and improvise on the material, Piffaro is attentive to the conventions of informed period performance practice, but tends to stick closely to the scores. Listeners' responses to this CD are likely to reflect their attitude toward these two approaches. Those who prefer a looser, more improvisational performance style may not find enough daring and individuality in Piffaro's playing, but listeners who believe that faithful adherence to the received source material is the way to go will probably enjoy the CD. The playing itself is lively and spirited. Most of the tracks tend to rely heavily on recorders, shawms, and crumhorns, but strings are generally in short supply, leading to too much uniformity of texture. Those tracks that feature lute and harp provide a pleasing contrast. The sound is generally good, but the tracks using soprano recorder tend to be a little shrill, and may require some volume adjustment.
Waytes: English Music for a Renaissance Band Review
by Stephen Eddins