Ensemble Micrologus: Carnivalesque

Sex, lies and… musical tales in 16th-century Venice
67:41
Baryton CDM0027 (© 2014)

This Venetian Carnival repertoire seems ideally suited to the versatility and forthright presentational style of Ensemble Micrologus, and indeed most of it is highly engaging and irresistibly evocative of the seamier side of Renaissance Venice. Only a couple of times in the more decorous part-music are there moments of uncomfortable intonation – it is hard to imagine that even in their unguardedly raucous moments the citizens of the Pearl of the Adriatic would have sung out of tune! Elsewhere an engagingly organic treatment of these popular tunes, with a galaxy of unusual instruments including bray harp, sordellina and buttafoco, merging in and out of the ensemble sound brings them vividly to life. Various sound effects, vocal interpolations and ‘informal percussion’ further enhance the ‘live’ and lively impression of this CD. The pieces are arranged into themed groups such as a Lanzo/Scaramella collection and a sequence celebrating the ‘rolling pin and the bread loaf’ in both of which the Ensemble lets its hair down to enjoy in full the obvious doubles entendres  of the texts. This is a joyous recording in which the performers manage to capture the risqué playfulness and folky virtuosity of this repertoire on CD, providing a useful antidote to any overdose of San Marco-based polychorality. This is the sort of music the Venetians enjoyed in the streets during Carnival time, and in many ways it provides a usefully scurrilous counterbalance to the more serious aspects of this multi-faceted and remarkable city state – also colourfully invoked on the accompanying visual material which is based on Canaletto’s representation of the magnificent Bucintoro.

D. James Ross