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  Aliud -
  ACD BH 052-2
  Torres del Alma - Bassano Quartet
  "Torres del Alma"

Bassano Quartet
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Site review by Geohominid January 23, 2011
Performance:   Sonics:    
Spanish music from the 15th to 17th centuries is becoming better known in recent years, thanks to recordings of organ pieces by composers such as Jan de Anchieta, Jan del Alcina, Antonio Cabezón, Christobal de Morales, Francisco Guerro and Francisco Correa de Arauxo. There was, however, another field of music-making, that of the consort, a small group playing instruments of the same family. This was a more intimate and social form for domestic gatherings of Royal and aristocratic connoisseurs; in England, consorts of viols were preferred, while in Spain recorder consorts were favoured. In 1568 the Spanish Court bought a set of "flautos" from the famous Italian recorder makers, the Bassano family. It is from them that the ensemble playing on this disc take their name.

The repertoire of consort music for a quartet of recorders was mainly taken from four-part sets of organ or vocal music. The chosen "highlights" of this surprisingly abundant array of compositions has been arranged on this disc in three groups; extracts from the C15th MS 'Cancionero Musical de Palacio', music inspired by the writings of the mystic Theresa of Avila during the C16th, and pieces from the C17th.

The instrumentarium for these performances is described in some detail in the disc's booklet. Recorder buffs will probably recognise the names of the various recorder species used, many of them hand-built replicas. Others are special types developed from old models by the renowned maker Adriana Berukink, such as "Dream Recorders" and "Eagles". A special feature is the remarkable B flat sub contrabass based on a Bassano model - at 3m it is said to be the largest recorder in the world. The Quartet use combinations of various pitch ranges and recorder types for each piece, and when the sub contrabass comes in on four tracks, hairs on the back of the neck are raised, as its deep fundamentals resemble big organ pedals, to thrilling effect. This big recorder appears in an amusing photograph on the dics's front cover.

The music itself ranges from lilting dances with chirpy bright leading trebles to richly-textured, brooding dark altos and basses intoning slower pavan-like dances or contemplative studies of St Theresa's texts, where there is a wonderful sense of inner calm and poise. Such a constant variety of sound and mood makes this whole inspired programme a most pleasurable listening experience.

Performances by the Bassano Quartet are exemplary: rhythmically buoyant, crisply articulated and truly conversational part-playing. They mostly take the melodies 'straight' with only occasional discreet ornamentation, but the pieces involving "Differenzias" (running scales of progressively decreasing note values between successive melody notes) demonstrate their wonderfully crisp and nimble virtuosity. Differenzias equate to the "divisions" so beloved of the C16th and C17th English lutenists.

Sonically, this disc is a marvel, with the players realistically arrayed before the listener in a gently resonant but not reverberant church acoustic. Every detail of the richly harmonic instruments is captured, to make them convincingly appear in one's listening room. This sonic magic is of the kind which justifies a listener's spending of so much money in building up their hi-fi systems.

An enchanting and unusual disc, which makes me suspect that I already have a candidate for my Record of the Year. Please don't miss this one.

Copyright © 2011 John Miller and