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This delightful new recording by Alison Crum and Roy Marks presents 38 short pieces for string instruments from the 15th and 16th centuries. The CD’s light-hearted title takes its name from one of the cantus firmi or tenors – La Spagna – upon which composer-performers wove complex counterpoint and improvised divisions; it features here in ten different settings. In addition to the dance-like recercadas of Diego Ortiz and Sylvestro di Ganassi and the ‘wistfully rhapsodic’ catches of Henry VIII, arrangements of madrigals and free-flowing pieces provide music whose sincerity and beauty are brought out with song-like grace by Crum and Marks. Marks’s own compositions conclude the collection with a clever synthesis of the lyrical quality of the old musical styles with subtly poignant modern harmonies.

Crum’s sensitive and varied phrasing guides the listener through every twist in each instrumental narrative, while Marks’ lute playing demonstrates a clarity which illuminates the often complex polyphony of his solo numbers. The recording is detailed enough that all of the bowed and plucked articulation is audible, a quality which is cleverly exploited by the musicians to create extraordinary variety of colour and tone. This also lends an enjoyable crispness of texture to the music. A masterclass in an unfamiliar idiom.

Samuel Stadlen Read the full review on Agora Classica


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