Les maîtres de la vielle baroque - French Music for Hurdy-Gurdy
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Les maîtres de la vielle baroque
French Music for Hurdy-Gurdy
CPO 999 864-2

Performed by:
Matthias Loibner and Riccardo Delfino, Hurdy-gurdy
Laurent Le Chenadec, Bassoon
Thomas Wimmer, Viola da gamba
Norbert Zeilberger, Harpsichord
Works by Philippe Dugué, Charles Buterne, Jean-Baptiste Dupuits, Jacques Christophe Naudot, Ravet, Jean-Noêl Marchand, and Charles Bâton

This collection of baroque hurdy-gurdy music represents, in a way, that instrument's comeback after a century of neglect and scorn (although, one presumes, that back then the scorn was at least being heaped upon the actual hurdy-gurdy, and not the glorified music box that has usurped its name in the current popular imagination). In the medieval period, the hurdy-gurdy was depicted as being played by angels as the appropriate accompaniment to the singing of the Psalms. However, its association with peasants (not to mention the limited range of the instrument in the pre-baroque era) tainted its musical reputation considerably. Relegated to an attention-getting device of blind beggars, the hurdy-gurdy was a solidly lower class instrument.

However, in what must have been one of the earliest examples of “slumming it,” all things rustic became quite fashionable. With this newly found interest, instrument builders brought their skills to improving on the old wheel-fiddle, making hurdy-gurdies with a greater tonal flexibility, chromatic keyboards, softer drones and sweeter sonorities. Even though the drones caused problems with the many key modulations needed for baroque music, the baroque hurdy-gurdy found its place even in Royal circles.

Sadly, the Classical style of Haydn and Mozart seemed to have little use for the instrument, and it once again fell into decline, but this time with a body of literature awaiting rediscovery. Fortunately for lovers of this enchanting instrument, the hurdy-gurdy has formidable ambassadors in the Matthias Loibner and Riccardo Delfino.

Both tackling the hurdy-gurdy repertoire with extensive backgrounds in a variety of musical forms, Loibner and Delfino shed light on some of the gems of the baroque hurdy-gurdy on this album. The composers are hardly commonplace, but on listening to the selections recorded here, the listener must wonder why not. With all the drama and complexity expected of the baroque era, these pieces are sophisticated, subtle, expressive, and utterly charming. Loibner and Delfino match the quality of the compositions with their blend of solid musical-historical knowledge, exceptional technique and innate musicality. From the melancholy yearning expressed in Dupuits's Oeuvre 3, 1ère, Ariette "Gracieusement" to the vigorously regal Oeuvre 2, 4eme, Allegro "La Bully" by Buterne, Loibner and Delfino demonstrate their mastery of the instrument as well as their strong connection to the music.

Because many compositions were written for two hurdy-gurdies, they have no trouble finding the right pieces to showcase their musical compatibility. Tasteful stereo separation on the recording aids in hearing them distinctly, but without the disjointed quality that often plagues recordings of two soloists. Their accompanying musicians are also superb, with some fine continuo work by Thomas Wimmer and Norbert Zeilberg on viola da gamba and harpsichord, respectively. However, the most enchanting of the works are those that eschew the continuo, instead providing an intoxicating weaving of melodies and “dog” rhythms, grounded by the stability of the drones, as is heard on Baton's Oeuvre 3, 6eme, Gayement.

If there is anything lacking in the album, it is only of concern to those of us who number among the most pedantic of early music geeks, and that is the lack of technical information regarding the instruments themselves and the tuning employed. While this data would be of tremendous interest to the sort of people who have actually lost friendships over fights on temperament, its lack certainly takes nothing away from these superb performances, and the notes are well-written and informative about the history of baroque hurdy-gurdy music. - Erik Keilholtz

This CD available from Amazon.com
Other recordings by Mattias Loibner are available from cdRoots

Other recordings in this review series:
Les Eclairs de Musique: Les Saisons Amusantes
Matthias Loibner: Vielle à roué
Tunji Beier and Matthias Loibner: Zykado
Nataŝa Mirković – De Ro and Matthias Loibner: Ajvar & Sterz

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