Dancing in the Isles: Baroque and Traditional Music from England, Scotland, and Ireland [TrackList follows] – Musica Pacifica – Solimar 101, 74:58 *****:
This engaging recital tries to make the case–successfully, I might add–that the cultural crosscurrents of the British Isles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were such that high and low, elevated and grassroots popular, citified London and rural Scottish and Irish music were finding a home in the hearts of the populace in general, and this blending of styles was so commonplace that a program like the one under review here would have been not only welcomed, but expected.
Whether listening to improvisations on tunes that publisher John Playford in his fabulously profitable collection The English Dancing Master (1650) created, or the more complex choreographies of the Jacobean masque, the lively and foot-tapping exuberance of the traditional dance tunes, to the high intricacies of composers as groundbreaking and advanced as Nicola Matteis and John Locke, you will be astounded at how well it all fits together. When I first looked at the program I was curious as to how adept the artists of Musica Pacifica would be in navigating the styles and transitions, and whether the looseness of the popular material would cause consternating sloppiness in the “serious” pieces while that style made the “popular” pieces too rigid.
I needn’t have been concerned–the whole point of this disc is to show that the distance between such music is not great, and that mastery of one does not preclude mastery of the other. I am not convinced that such generalities apply to music created in any age; instead it seems to me that this particular time period is more amenable to this kind of similarity in approach and shares basic musical building blocks not necessarily found at other times–this one may be unique in that regard. Regardless of philosophy, it all works, and works well.
Musica Pacifica has consistently proven themselves one of the brightest lights in the Baroque musical firmament, and this release is one of the best, a joyous and beauteous romp through the vagaries of an age and culture that we think we know well, but is actually far richer and more varied than we realize. Concept, playing, and performances are terrific.
TrackList:William Byrd: La Volta James Oswald: 3 Trio Sonatas on Scots Tunes – Sonata in D Major Matthew Locke: Broken Consort, I – Suite #4 in C minor Nicola Matteis: Ayres in G Major Francesco Veracini: Sonata in A Major, Op. 2 #9 “Scozzese” Henry Purcell: 3 Parts upon a Ground Traditional tunes and dances from the British Isles