This new release from I Furiosi called “Crazy” is, well, crazy. It’s not just that the Toronto-based Baroque Ensemble, comprised of four of Canada’s leading early music specialists is one of world’s most innovative; it’s that they put their heart and soul into their work with such passion that you’re either going to hate this CD or take it to bed with you at night (or maybe even in the afternoon).
Here’s how I Furiosi position the composers in their liner notes: “Georg Friedrich Handel was considered a bit dangerous and nuts in his day. When he wasn’t getting into sword fights with ex-lovers, he was storming about raving at his copyists while they tried to print out trio sonatas. He wrote Cleopatra’s aria ‘Piangerò la Sorte Mia’ to reflect her insanity at being imprisoned and at her authority being challenged. She goes berserk and gets mighty angry … Dr. Thomas Augustine Arne was a well-known whacko [not a technical term… Ed.] of the Baroque. His wife refused to live with him because of his wild behavior, while he described her as having ‘passions equal to raving madness.’ He wrote incidental music for a late production of Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ during their mentally enforced separation…
Marco Uccellini is known for his difficult virtuosic writing for the violin, and his extreme use of chromaticism in pieces. ‘La Luciminia Contenta’ expresses a wild and manic sort of happiness… Alessandro Stradella was a successful composer of operas, and had produced a great number of his own pieces in Venice when the first attempt on his life was made. His incessant womanizing led to the next attempt on his life, from which he took a great deal of time to recover. Finally, in 1682, the Lomellini brothers (whose sister he had seduced–weren’t they in an episode of ‘The Sopranos’?) managed to complete the task that others had begun some years earlier, and Stradella was murdered in Genoa … Francesco Maria Veracini was the real thing. Nuttier than a nutloaf, he once got in a fight with another composer and a singer and wound up leaping from a window on the third floor of a theatre. He locked himself in rooms, caused shipwrecks and generally wreaked havoc on Europe. But he sure could play the violin … Tobias Hume was known as a solitary crazed genius, and wrote his viola da gamba solo ‘Deth’ in a moment of solitary insanity … John Blow made only one foray into the world of the mad song. ‘Lysander I Pursue’ is written from the perspective of Belinda, a delusional and infatuated woman who fancies herself the Goddess of Love. Lysander seems to be safely tucked away before her tirade begins.”
They could also have mentioned Vivaldi’s “La Folia” trio sonata and “While I with Wounding Grief” by the redoubtable Godfrey Finger. The concert concludes with a song by Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne,” about his friend Suzanne Verdal McCallister who was hovering on the brink of sanity in the 1960s. The poem is an account of the summer he spent with her in 1965.
The performances are expert and authoritative without sounding self-conscious for even one bar. The rich, sometimes boisterous sound, recorded at Humbercrest United Church in Toronto, has a surprisingly luminous quality that almost indecently flatters the softer strains while still being able to stand up to the occasional assaults of volume and timbre. It’s also a green project, as the packaging will be, in future, made from recycled products, and the excellent liner notes, including complete texts, is available as a PDF download so you don’t have a fell a few trees just for the sake of having lots of pieces of paper in your hands while reading all about musical madness. (One of our other reviewers has a rather different take on those Net downloads…Ed.)
It’s also an indication of where the industry is headed in that a special feature of this new release from media-savvy I Furiosi is a video interpretation of “Piangero la Sorte Mia,” which can be viewed at Dorian Sono Luminus’s YouTube page.
– Laurence Vittes