Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Palisander: Beware the Spider!

Palisander - Beware the Spider!
Tarquinio Merula, Anthony Holborne, Antonio Vivaldi, Tiburtio Massaino, William Byrd, Athansius Kircher, Luzzascho Luzzaschi, Robert Johnson; Palisander
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 25 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A programme of 16th and 17th music for recorder consort, themed imaginatively around the tarantella and tarantism

The recorder quartet Palisander (Hanna St Clair Fisher, Lydia Gosnell, Miriam Nerval, Caoimhe de Paor) has taken a rather imaginative path in programming its debut disc. Beware the Spider!, on their own label, features music by Tarquinio Merula, Anthony Holborne, Antonio Vivaldi, Tiburtio Massanio, William Byrd, Athansius Kircher, Luzzascho Luzzaschi, and Robert Johnson, but it is recorder player Miriam Nerval's arrangements of 17th and 18th century tarantellas which give the clue to the selection.

This is the ensemble's debut disc, a showcase for the player's talents, but rather than simply putting together a nice selection of pieces which show off their talents, the group explores the different ways music could thread its way through Tarantism; the theory that this hysterical disorder arising from a spider bite could be treated via music. So we have tarantellas themselves, a selection of six in all. But we also have consort music by Anthony Holborne, the composer's control of his emotive melodic writing reflecting the spider venom's control over the victims emotions. The delusions and nightmares experiences by victims are evoked by Vivaldi's programmatic flute concerto La Notte.

Another cure for being bitten, in Apulia, was to take the victim to a chapel which was the site of a pool blessed by St Paul, so here we have Ego pro te rogavi Petre by Tiburtio Massanio. Science of the day is represented by the writer Athanasius Kircher, whose Antidotum Tarantulae is performed alongside spoken words by Miriam Nerval.

Each of the works on the disc has a similar place in the arcane world of treating tarantism. The result is an intriguing programme which not only shows of the talents of the performers, but intrigues too, with Miriam Nerval's booklet article providing a nice commentary to guide you through the programme.

Nerval has made the attractive suites of tarantellas, and also done the rather more with Vivaldi's concerto where Vivaldi's original writing is linked with extended techniques and unusual sound-words to create something rather striking and startling.

The variety of pieces on the disc, and the different styles contained, help to vary the textures and timbres, and the players certainly show some strong technique too. They play a consort of instruments by Thomas Prescott, designed after 16th century originals in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum, plus a contrabass by Kung, and they are joined on some tracks by Toby Carr (baroque guitar and theorbo), and Ruairi Glasheen (Percussion).

The group was on the St John's Smith Square Young Artists Scheme in 2016-17, and the Brighton Early Music Festival's 'Early Music Live!' scheme 2015-16.

This charming disc not only shows off the ensemble's skills admirably, but provides a programme which intrigues.

The disc is available from Palisander's website.

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