Kapsberger • Pellegrini • Piccinini • Narváez • Frescobaldi • Gianoncelli

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COMPOSERS: Frescobaldi & Gianoncelli,Kapsberger,Narváez,Pellegrini,Piccinini
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Nuove Musiche
WORKS: Various
PERFORMER: Rolf Lislevand
CATALOGUE NO: 476 3049

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This is a manifesto as much as a performance. ‘Nuove musiche’ refers not to the 17th-century vocal repertory composed under this banner, but to lutenist Rolf Lislevand’s project to release the spirit of Baroque music from the chains of scholarship through carrying out modern improvisation on period instruments. The passacaglia tradition of lutes and guitars – free invention over a descending fourth – is Lislevand’s basic musical means. Taking works by Kapsberger, Pellegrini and others that he has previously recorded, he and the band submit their bass lines to diverse treatments: melodic inventions in jazz and popular idioms, overlays of Iberian dance rhythms, vocalisations on a single vowel, added percussion – modern and period – and heterodox strumming and plucking techniques. The format does well in showcasing Lislevand’s ample dynamic range, precise fingering and lively fantasy. But his own presence seems to overwhelm his colleagues, whose chance to have the music ‘develop in their minds’ – his stated goal – dwindles as he dazzles. A larger problem is that freeing Baroque music-making from its compositional rules removes the tensions that keep its melodic and rhythmic flourishes from lapsing into banality, as they too often do here. Trite melodies, engineered atmospherics and a surround of chimes, bells, and whispers might make a pleasant film soundtrack, but do no credit to Lislevand’s iconoclastic aims. You can’t recapture a musical past by abandoning its grammar.

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Berta Joncus