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Reviews: Saltarello - Ensemble Braccio

Reviews: 2

Site review by mwagner1962 November 22, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
As a serious fan of the music from the Medieval to the Baroque, I look forward to any new recordings done on SACD. I had seen these new SACD from Aliud here on the site and immediately became interested.

The US distributor for Aliud/Skarster was kind enough to send me two samples for review, as it has always been my policy to give an unfamiliar label a test listen before I buy any future releases. And I am happy to report that this method has been rather successful with nearly 600 SACD titles.

This disc is now a very nice addition to my library. While the composer, the Milanese Casparo Zanetti is basically unknown, the performing group plays with some real feeling.. This is nice compared to other incredibly stodgy and boring performances from other ensemble I have heard in the past. The picture of the ensemble show four individuals, while the personnel roster lists six people, with the two extra musicians both playing both lute and guitar.

The sound, while rather intimate, is still very nice and not in any sense too close. At times I get a decent sense of the space, but once again most of the time the music is intimate. Despite this intimacy, it is NOT annoyingly close!!!

I think that I will continue to purchase recordings from Aliud. The recordings are done well, the players are all enthusiastic..what more do we need?

All around a very enjoyable recording!!


Review by Peter November 25, 2006 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Saltarello – Gasparo Zanetti, Santino Garsi
Ensemble Braccio, a DSD recording made in the Doopsgesinde Kerk, Joure 14-17 November 2005

Ensemble Braccio, named after the fact that their stringed instruments are played on the arm rather than under the chin, have been playing together for ten years. Instruments consist of treble, alto, tenor and bass violins as well as two players of both guitar and lute.

The players have done a great deal of research into playing practices and repertoire and this disc spotlights the beginnings of the string quartet using the wealth of dance music collected by Gasparo Zanetti and published in 1645 as a compendium (Il Scolaro) which includes important information about bowing and fingering. The dances by Santino Garsi are rather earlier, dating from the end of the previous century but remained very popular in Zanetti’s time.

Some of the dances performed here include the Saltarello in the title, a dance with a hop on the first or last beat of the bar, galliards, pavanes and a very delightful bergamasca. Zanetti’s book of dance music was widely used at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other banqueting occasions. Many of the string players in England and the Low Countries were Jewish; indeed a group of Sephardic Jewish viol and violin players arrived in England from Italy in 1540 to start the English court music ensemble. Many of the string players in Antwerp were related to them and looked to join the English court ensembles, waiting for a vacancy to occur. A famous and more modern take on the saltarello is that written by Mendelssohn for the last movement of his Italian Symphony.

If all this sounds rather academic, ascetic and dry, the music on this disc is far from that. The programme is skillfully arranged to ensure we hear a rich variety of sounds, from quite stately, courtly dances to more energetic ones, from dances with the string quartet on its own, the lutes or guitars on their own and whole band together.

I found myself spending a very enjoyable hour or thereabouts listening to this collection of expert players, and my goodness, their ensemble is excellent. This collection ended up being somewhat therapeutic, too, as the last listening was made when feeling quite unwell at the start, and feeling a lot better by the end. Perhaps this disc should be available on the National Health. Had Radio 1 been about in the 17th century I guess this music would have had wide airing.

Track 13 particularly caught my ear, a gorgeous Pavaniglia, highlighting the more romantic sort of dance. I was also intrigued by track 14 – La Mantovana – as this tune crops up in Smetana’s Vltava and in the Israeli national anthem.

The recording quality is superb; though recorded in a church, the small forces here are clear and well-balanced, and not bathed in gallons of unnecessary acoustic. The playing is excellent and the ensemble tight.

Music of this period, particularly played on period instruments is anathema to some people; happily, they can try their opinions out by linking to where excerpts may be heard. Listeners interested in the development of the string quartet or in the history of popular music may very well enjoy this a great deal.

This disc has joined my collection with honour and is my second disc of the year.

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