CD Review : Affetto by Gillian Rankine
for Early Music Society of Queensland - October 2017
Looking for a Christmas gift for your music-lover friend/relative? Looking for a top-quality CD recording of style and excellence? Then here it is. Affetto. Affetto? It is an Italian word which gives us both the name of the CD and the name of the group of musicians who perform on this recording. It means “affection” or “affecting” and the objective of the players is “to take the audience on an emotional journey with many twists and turns, highs and lows.” Brisbane concert goers will recognise at least 2 familiar faces in the group. Philip Griffin (baroque guitar, vihuelas, theorbo, bass viol and percussion) has been involved in EMSQ events and also Brisbane Baroque Players concerts. And if you went to the concert at the National Easter Viol School in Brisbane in 2013, you can't possibly have forgotten Polly Sussex's breathtakingly beautiful playing on her little pardessus de viole. I was smitten! With them, making a multi-talented line up are Soprano Jayne Tankersley, Rachael Griffiths-Hughes (harpsichord and organ), and Peter Reid (cornetto and putatara). What's a putatara? see www.jeremycloake.com/en/products/taonga_puoro/putatara/ it sounds amazing). More of that later.
The first thing that strikes you when you pick up this sumptuously packaged CD is the dramatic eye-mask and in particular the eye. This is a recurring theme in the songs which we hear. The star dies before the eyes of heaven as the dawn “lives for the valiant”. Beautiful eyes beguile the passion of love… eyes gaze,… eyes despise… and eyes deceive (the jilted lover). As Polly Sussex tells us in her notes on the music, “The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are fascinating for musicians… They show a transition from a musical style burdened with rules for the composition of lofty religious monuments to a more intimate humanistic style…” Expect to hear strophic songs, lively 4-bar Ciaccona bass lines (often improvised over by the musicians), scintillating cross-rhythms, and a Canarios, together with arias and instrumental compositions by Monteverdi, Caccini, Strozzi, Frescobaldi, Merula and many others. In other words, this is Italian and Spanish music from what has been described by some as the “Golden Age”. It seems sacrilegious to describe the outstanding quality of playing of these musicians in barely a paragraph, but there is so much to tell you about this recording. They are all exceptionally good musicians each in their own right, and all play together in an very tight well-balanced ensemble. We get to hear each of them featured in various tracks and contrasted with the group performances. As previously suggested, we get taken on an emotional journey which touches on outright jubilation and gently leads us to gems of introspective tenderness and reverence. Listen for some achingly beautiful ornamentation from the singer, keyboard, and viol players. Delight in the vihuela rhythms and enjoy the combination of the cornetto and the voice, and the voice-like qualities of the Viol. The recording quality of this CD is excellent. It has been recorded on the NZ label Atoll (which has international connections through an arrangement with Naxos).
Not only is the cover of this CD very arresting, the booklet which comes with it gives us information and visual delights. This appears to have been put together by the group members themselves rather than just being handed over to the design team of the recording company. Polly's notes are very informative and we get translations of all the words of the songs. There is a double-page spread of a remarkable still-life created by Peter and Philip which is beautifully photographed and rests the eyes from the text.
At the end of the recording there is a surprise. In a homage to the traditions of the New Zealand location of this group's usual performances there is a Maori song which has been written by Philip Griffin in catchy un-Baroque 7/8 time and introduced by that amazing Putatara sound. I sat bolt upright and so did the dog on my lap. Her head tipped from side to side, ears probing the halo of harmonics in hope of isolating a perceivable frequency. I can assure you, you will be singing the tune of this song long after you have finished listening to the CD. This small package is simply brimming with excellence. The musicians, their performances, the programming, the recording quality, and the overall visual presentation are outstanding. I hope in due time this CD will be referred to as “the award-winning CD, Affetto” because it deserves to be.
So how do you get this recording? Affetto have a very accessible web site www.affetto.co.nz
You can listen to samples from every track and you can buy the CD direct from this site. Do it. I can only highly recommend this recording to you all and borrow from the lyrics of this final song to express my feelings about it:
“if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain”