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Alia Vox Diversa

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Spanish early music ensemble Tasto Solo made ripples with their first three recordings – a diverse triptych starting with 15th-century keyboard music and arriving at music at the court of Henry VIII (Passacaille). Awards and nominations – including a Diapson d’Or and an ICMA – duly followed, but no more albums. Now, six years after their last release, the ensemble return under the umbrella of Jordi Savall’s Alia Vox label, with a typically quirky offering.


The group’s director and keyboard specialist Guillermo Pérez blends historical scholarship with experimentation and an imaginative approach to performance. We’ve already heard what might be described as his ‘what if?’ angle on the English disc, which brings together 16th-century music with instruments from an older era, most notably Pérez’s own organetto.


‘Eros & Subtilitas’ continues the trend, propelling us forwards again in time – now to the latter half of the 16th century and the world of Milan-based Vincenzo Ruffo. His Capricci in musica a tre voci supplies the core of the repertoire here. Ruffo borrows lines from his better-known contemporaries and forebears – Arcadelt, Janequin, Verdelot – and weaves instrumental counterpoint around them. These sit alongside (and are sometimes interwoven with) some of the original madrigals, performed here with just a single line (occasionally two) and the remaining voices supplied by instruments.


The effect of this sequence of variations and musical dialogues is strangely mesmerising – a shifting play of surface texture and contrapuntal depth. Pérez’s choices (often bringing soprano AnneKathryn Olsen and baritone Riccardo Pisani together in unison or deploying Renaissance harp and harpsichord with their jangling brilliance and clouds of overtones alongside the nasal bend and breathy piping of the organetto) create an effect at once more medieval and more modern than you might expect.


Breaking up the madrigals are dances from the manuscript of Castell’Arquato – stately pavans and athletic saltarellos performed by the ensemble in various constellations. The injection of rhythm is welcome but texturally it makes for a relentlessly bright and blossomy sequence. A little contrasting sobriety and textural stillness would help set off Pérez’s striking ensemble to best effect. My ears are still ringing. Alexandra Coghlan

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