Matteis - Held By The Ears - Palladian Ensemble - Gramophone

The Palladian Ensemble's very first recording featured a number of pieces by Nicola Matteis...and for a while they used one of them almost as a signature tune. Now they have drawn more items from his huge ragbag of short pieces for two melody instruments and continuo - Ayres with a whole range of titles from Adagio to Jigg to Aria Burlesca con molto bizzarie and Giga Al Genio Turchescho - and made them the main subject of their latest disc, borrowing its title from Roger North's description of Matteis's playing: flaming as I have seen him, in a good humour he hath held the company by the ears...for more than an hour together.

Acknowledging, however, that Matteis's inspiration is a little hit-and-miss for a whole disc, they have mixed them with a few anonymous instrumental solos of the time and, most intriguingly, their own arrangements of Scottish folk tunes. In his insert-note Palladian lutenist William Carter admits that the connection between Matteis and musical matters Caledonian is 'indefinable', but the ear picks it up all right, and the combination seems to work rather well.
Not the least enjoyable feature is the convincingly folkish accent with which the Scottish tunes are performed; Pamela Thorby's soulful bends and grace notes are like an echo of the glens, while Rachel Podger's violin playing is as lithe as a fly-fisher's rod. As for Matteis, well, he is no genius, but his music can be fun, and besides, it does not seem to take much to get these players' imaginations going.

After all, the Palladian Ensemble are a group whose quick-witted inventiveness and almost supernatural internal rapport never fail to delight, whatever the music.

01 February 2000