COMPOSERS: Nicola Matteis
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Held by the Ears
WORKS: Scots airs
PERFORMER: Palladian Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 126
The few facts we have about Nicola Matteis come from the essayist Roger North, who knew him well. An Italian virtuoso violinist and composer, Matteis settled in London c1670; however, he ‘continued low and obscure a long time’, being deemed ‘inexpugnably proud’ for refusing to perform with less talented ‘gentlemen’. Finally, as North drily noted, ‘good councell and starving’ changed his mind and, once he’d flattered some aristocratic egos, Matteis and his music proved instrumental in converting English taste to Italian styles.
The Palladian Ensemble takes its CD title from North’s account of how Matteis, a brilliant improviser, often ‘held the company by the ears… for more than an hour together’. The Palladian’s own playing holds the ears too (though, alas, the players decline to improvise here), and its strange notion of performing Matteis’s brief, finely wrought airs (including a set for solo guitar) with a selection of 17th-century Scottish folk tunes (including a set for solo lute) proves inspired – as does its inclusion of a haunting set of divisions for bass viol. But Matteis deservedly remains the chief focus, his idiosyncratic genius most evident, and most enjoyable, in the mercurial, witty invention of pieces like the aptly named Aria burlesca con molto bizzarie. Graham Lock