Renaissonics: Polyphonic Groove

June 9, 2015, New England Conservatory of Music

Renaissonics has been performing for more than 20 years, with a
broad repertoire of Renaissance music from simple dance tunes to
elaborate chamber music. The members are solo performers in their
own right, and can improvise virtuoso ornamentation as well as
putting across the simple tunes of the dance repertoire with
beautiful phrasing and rich variation of tonal colors.

For example, the first piece on this program, So ben mi
cha bon tempop
, is known to recorder players as
Questa Dolce Sirena in Van Eyck’s collection. The
tune appears in Negri’s Gratie d’Amore, and
Renaissonics takes the Orazio Vecchi 4-part setting as their
starting point. They start with a version with the G alto
recorder on the top line, finishing with ornamentational
fireworks. There’s also a very contemplative lute solo version, a
verse with lute and contra-bass recorder, one with violin and
cello duet, and a conclusion with the whole ensemble together

The program continued with several more selections from the
Renaissance dance repertoire (Caroso and Praetorius). They then
played three of Ruffo’s Capricci in Musica,
including La Gamba in Tenor where a C bass recorder
took the “tenor” line with the long notes in the middle line and the cello and fiddle
did the decorative outer parts. They used a bass crumhorn on the
bass line of La Danza. The next group included “Se
l’aura spira” by Frescobaldi, demonstrating how well players who
normally play earlier polyphony can shift to playing really
inventive continuo. The program concluded with a Spanish group,
finishing with Riu, Riu Chiu where the tambourine
percussion is augmented by the Cuica, an instrument that produces
something like a wolf howl. In our era, the cuica is associated
with Brazilian Carneval music, but there are references to it in
the 16th century, so it isn’t so very anachronistic.

The encore was O rosetta, che rosetta from
Monteverdi’s Scherzi in musicali of 1607, with a
particularly beautiful violin variation.

One conclusion recorder players can take from this variety of
orchestration is that good renaissance recorders can hold their
own with other instruments. There’s a tradition of always using
the smaller recorders on the top line when there are so-called
“louder” instruments in the ensemble, but Renaissonics will often
use a tenor recorder on a middle line with a violin playing above it.

I hadn’t heard Renaissonics play since the last Boston Early
Music Festival two years ago. Their ensemble is better and their
arrangements more inventive and liberated. This is really
something to remember when listening to younger ensembles that
have been playing together for only a couple of years — ensemble
playing is something that really gets better with practice.

  • John Tyson — recorders, pipe & tabor, crumhorn
  • Douglas Freundlich — lute, cuica
  • Laura Gulley — violin
  • Daniel Rowe — ‘cello
  • Miyuki Tsurutani — harpsichord, recorders, percussion

Disclaimer: This reviewer takes recorder lessons from John
Tyson, eats Miyuki’s cooking regularly, and has drunk beer with
most of the other members of the ensemble. (That last admission
is unnecessary — you really wouldn’t want to read reviews of
early music concerts written by people who hadn’t drunk beer with
early music performers.)

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