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GRAMOPHONE (10/2014)
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Reviewer:  Fabrice Fitch

It was a mark of good breeding for the Renaissance gentleman to accompany himself on a string instrument. Nowadays, the vast repertory that catered to this practice is usually performed by a singer and an accompanist but Vivabiancaluna Biffi has made a specialty of reuniting the two functions. In Italy at the beginning of the 16th century, the frottola held sway: a large proportion of the earliest music publications is devoted to it.


On two counts, then, this recording offers something refreshingly unusual. At first hearing, the music may seem to lack variety; but repeated listening yields considerable subtlety and emotional range within a narrow stylistic ambit. Like many of the best tunes, the finest of these make their impact gradually. In this, the recital’s structure is an effective tool: the way in which successive pieces lead into and follow each other is admirably judged.


Biffi’s performances match the music in their directness and lightness of touch: her playing especially is impressive, whether on its own or with voice. A single piece is multitracked, and it’s so well done that one hardly notices. Only in the faster songs does a hint of repetition creep in, at the start of some refrains or at the ends of lines, when one senses the singer thinking ahead to the next verse. The recital is subtitled ‘Tracing the Origins of Opera’ but this bit of musicologising is superfluous: the frottola can perfectly stand on its own.

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