Back Before Bach: Musical Journeys = Music by 16th & 17th century German and Franco-Flemish composers – Piffaro/ Joan Kimball /Robert Wiemken – Navona 

Back Before Bach: Musical Journeys = Music by sixteenth and early seventeenth century German and Franco-Flemish composers – Piffaro/ Joan Kimball & Robert Wiemken, artistic co-directors – Navona Records NV6106, 61:03 (9/1/17) *****:

The six members of Piffaro—the Philadelphia-based, self-styled “Renaissance band”—return with four guests in an all-instrumental album designed to show the musical precedents that set the stage for German Baroque and Bach.

Conceived in the manner of a Renaissance consort, Piffaro play their arrangements in various enticing configurations of the group’s assembly of lute, guitar, shawms (including a schalmei), harp, bagpipes, dulcians (and even a douçaine), recorders, crumhorns, percussionists, and sackbuts.

Because the disc’s 38 tracks have been assembled as if they were the proof of a post-graduate thesis – including seven different settings of “Christ ist erstanden” by Bach and six of his predecessors, and four of “Innsbruck, Ich müss dich lassen” – could listening all the way through at one sitting could be a transformative experience for those so inclined and steeped in history; however, there are a few gems for audiophiles seeking demo tracks.

The haunting beauty of Bach’s “Christum wir sollen loben schon” chorale, is followed by an Allemande by Scheidt featuring incredibly nuanced and tangibly textured deep bass tones, one of Praetorius’s irresistible dances, Lasso at his most incomparably euphonious (track 28), and the simple beauties of a solo recorder (track 30), all recalling the glory analog days of French Harmonia Mundi.

The recordings were made at two churches in Wilmington, DE, and are warm and so detailed that each listening reveals small new miracles.

—Laurence Vittes

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