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Concert reviews

"The birth of the violin'"

Le Miroir de Musique/Baptiste Romain
concert: Nov 26, 2014, Utrecht, Leeuwenbergh

anon: Con gran fervor Gesù ti vo cercando - Cantasi come - Iam pris amore; Padovana in piva - O Dio ch'a fatto il ciel con la fortuna; Patientia ognun me dice; Giovanni BASSANO (c1558-after 1617): La Rose (after Adrian Willaert); Franco BENDUSI (fl 1553) (attr): La canella - Animoso - Cortesa padoana; La mala vecchia - Il stocco; Antoine BRUMEL (c1460-1512/13): Mater patris; Loyset COMPÈRE (c1445-1518): Helas je l'ay perdue [Alons ferons barbe]; Joanambrosio DALZA (fl 1508): Patientia ognun me dice; Innocentius DAMMONIS (fl 15th C): Peccatori, perchè seti; Sebastiano FESTA (c1490/95-1524): Se 'l pensier che mi strugge; Johannes GHISELIN Verbonnet (fl 1491-1507): De che te pasci amore - Carmen in sol; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450/55-1521): Missus est Gabriel angelus; O mater Dei; Enguerandus JUVENIS (fl 15th C): Salve Regina misericordie; Filippo DA LURANO (c1475-after 1520): Salve sacrata; Jacob OBRECHT (1457/58-1505): Recercar - La stangetta; Johannes REGIS (Jehan Leroy) (c1425-c1496): Ave Maria; Johannes VINCENET (fl c1420-1470): Nihil est opertum [Fortune par ta cruaulté]; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): Mirabile mysterium; Ricercar VII

Sabine Lutzenberger, voice; Baptiste Romain, violin; Elizabeth Rumsey, viola d'arco; Marc Lewon, lute, guitar

The violin is mostly associated with the period in music history which we call "baroque". In the decades around 1600 instruments were given a more important role. Before they were mostly playing in ensemble or used to support the human voice. Instrumental ensembles played either dance music or transcriptions of vocal music. It was the time of the consort of various instruments, such as viols or recorders, and ensembles of cornetts and sackbuts. The role of the violin in the renaissance is underexposed. An ensemble which aims at correcting this situation is Le Miroir de Musique, founded and directed by Baptiste Romain. This ensemble gave a series of concerts in the Netherlands and Belgium, starting in Utrecht on 26 October and ending on 5 December in Antwerp.

Romain is not the first to pay attention to the role of the violin in renaissance music, but discs with music played on the violin are rare and mostly rather one-sided in their focus on dance music. However, it was especially in the second half of the 16th century that the violin was used for this kind of repertoire. Earlier in the century as well as in the 15th century it participated in instrumental performances of vocal music, such as motets, or in performances of polyphonic instrumental music, for instance ricercares or carmina.

The concert included specimens of both kinds of repertoire, but also music which was performed with a combination of voice and instruments. The composers represented in the programme were from the Franco-Flemish school (Josquin, Obrecht, Willaert, Regis, Ghiselin), native Italian masters (Festa, Bendusi, Lurano) and two French composers: Compère and Brumel. In addition there were some anonymous pieces.

The different character of the pieces in the programme requires different approaches. The vocal items were mostly performed with Sabine Lutzenberger singing the upper part whereas the instruments - violin, viola d'arco and lute, in various combinations - taking the other parts. The parts of polyphonic pieces in the renaissance are of equal importance, and that means that a balance between the voice and the instruments is of great importance. That balance was perfect: Ms Lutzenberger is an experienced singer of renaissance music and knows how to adapt her voice to the instruments. Sometimes that results in the text being not completely audible but that was not the main concern of composers at the time. The singing was very good; only in Josquin's Missus est Gabriel angelus she had some problems with the lowest notes, which seemed to me a little out of her normal tessitura. There was also a good differentiation between liturgical pieces like this motet and the more 'popular' laude, the pieces which were sung by the Italian confraternities.

A good balance is also essential in instrumental pieces of a polyphonic character. Here the various parts should be treated on equal terms, and the listener should be able to follow everyone of those parts. That was certainly the case here: the players adapted their playing and the dynamics to each other's instruments. There were some specimens of dance music as well, and there the players payed much attention to the rhythmic pulse.

For many in the audience the violin playing renaissance music was probably a whole new experience. Baptiste Romain is an excellent advocate of his instrument and as he also participates in concerts and recordings of other ensembles the role of the violin will become more important. His ensemble is relatively young and one of the many which have emerged in recent years. Not everyone of them adds something essential to what we already have, but Le Miroir de Musique is different. This is definitely one of the finest and most interesting new branches at the early music tree.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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