These two gentlemen purport to engage the listener in improvisations using medieval instruments. And not just using those instruments, but producing sounds that no medievalist would likely have heard. In other words, there is an attempt to stretch the “capabilities” of these instruments much in the way that so many modern composers have sought to challenge the skills of modern players of all stripes.
Well, why not? It really shouldn’t matter whether the instruments are old or new while one is busy redefining their tonal capabilities, so I for one don’t see why period instruments should be exempt from this rather egregious exercise in redefinition. But to be fair, this is only a part of what happens on this disc. Though both of these players dabble in the classical and jazz worlds, there is very little of what even remotely resembles jazz here—so you can relax if you thought that you were in for a jam session of crumhorns and sackbuts!
And I must admit that after careful listening, there is a lot of skill at play here. Both players are carefully listening to one another and playing off each other. The fiddle may execute a curlicue melody that the harp then picks up and turns into a rhythmic accompaniment. Often two lines intersect and parallel one another in a quite tonal manner—indeed this is all tonal music.
But it is also rather nerve-wracking. The distorted timbre of the instruments, recorded close up, over an hour’s time begins to work wearily on the stamina. And the biggest problem is that the 12 pieces tend to sound alike, not surprising considering there are only two or three, and improvisation by its very nature is a difficult thing to maintain consistently within any one stylistic medium without seeking new variance.
The sound, as I said, is rather close and leaden. My dog, who normally ignores just about everything that ever pops in my sound system, came cautiously slithering in the room and positioned himself midway between the two principal stereo speakers, assuming a pseudo-aggressive stance while listening carefully to sounds even he never had heard before—and he didn’t look comfortable. This about sums up the experience for me also, though there are some who will appreciate the evident talent of these two players.
— Steven Ritter