Un Fior Gentile

L’ars nova di magister Antonio Zacara da Teramo
Ensemble Micrologus
68:41
Baryton CDM0023 (© 2008)

Is it possible that the music by up to three shady figures spanning the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries is actually by the same man? The programme notes of the present CD by Goffredo Esposti hedge their bets, but it is amusing to think that the papal singer whose works made it into the Old Hall Manuscript was as also responsible for virtuosic instrumental music in the Faenza Codex as well as frankly erotic Italian ditties. All the more remarkable when we learn that the Zacara ‘Doctus in musicis’, rather bluntly represented in an initial illustration in the Codex Squarcialupi suffered from serious phocomelia, the deformity of limbs exhibited by Thalidomide victims. In addition to presenting sacred music, similar in style to Machaut, in a wonderfully ‘forward’ head-voice style, sometimes in conjunction with brass, the Ensemble Micrologus are also in a position to give us some instrumental music, one piece a stunning duet between positive organ and organetto.

And then there are the splendid ballate  and caccia, with their evocative verse, possibly also by the composer as he features in many texts either by name or in elaborately coded terms, which are given wonderfully gritty performances by Micrologus. If the intonation just occasionally falls victim to the forthright performance style in a couple of the sacred pieces and the recorded sound is rather immediate and brittle in some tracks, the Ensemble’s vision of Zacara’s works is compelling, and the interplay of voices and instruments stunningly convincing. So whether the group has conflated the work of up to three contemporary composers, or more likely to my mind introduced a single remarkable eclectic, transcendent and exuberant figure to the musical world, they have done us a great service with this CD.

D. James Ross