La Morte della Ragione

La Morte della Ragione
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Outhere Music: Alpha ALPHA450. 73’07

La Morte della Ragione (The Death of Reason) is a concept album (CD and a 98-page illustrated book) based around Petrarch’s comment that The senses reign, and Reason now is dead’. It is also a clearly intended as a showcase for the virtuoso recorder playing of Giovanni Antonini, founder of Il Giardino Armonico. After an opening recorder flourish we hear the anonymous 16th-century pavane, La Morte della Ragione. This is seen as a reference to to Erasmus‘s In Praise of Folly, and his suggestion of two forms of madness – a sweet illusion of the spirit and the opposite, ‘one that the vengeful Furies conjure up from hell.

A wide-ranging set of scenarios are offered, ranging in date from John Dunstable (1390-c1453), via the likes of Alexander Agricola (1446-c1506), to Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), whose Galliard Battaglia concludes the CD. a battle piece involving a great many diminutions or ‘divisions’, a common technique of improvisation in the Renaissance… This grand instrumental musical fresco of time and space is a kind of self-portrait of Giovanni Antonini and his longstanding musical colleagues. To accompany this disc, a richly-illustrated booklet presents a free-ranging iconographical tour combining pictures and contemporary photos.

The 14 players play around on 30 different instruments in the 27 tracks in a vivid and colourful sound world. A particular feature is the use of diminutions, elaborations on an existing melodic line, here represented by examples from Andrea Inghisciano, Gawain Glenton and Stefano Barneschi on cornettos and violin. The choice of instruments allows a wide range of interpretation possibilities, and include some free improvisations in, for example, the particularly languid version of Upon la mi re (Thomas Preston?) where the written text segues into a fantasy world before fading out. Giovanni Antonini provides texts to support his own particular manner of interpretation and of playing the recorder, which includes ‘vibratos and vibrations’ and ‘sprezzatura’, some of which I found a little off putting, particularly when it affected pitch and intonation. That said, the choice of music and the performances, along with the text and illustrations in the book make for a very attractive sequence of music.

More information at Outhere Music.