Sollazzo Ensemble - Parle qui veut - The Arts Desk

Here, Anne Stone’s fascinating sleeve essay does get a bit Dan Brown at times: there's mention of a mysterious song collection called the Squarcialupi Codex, and talk of a diminutive 14th century composer lacking many fingers and toes. The said songbook contains a lament sung by the personification of Music, “weeping… to see pleasant minds abandon sweet and perfect qualities for frottole”. In essence, the voice of a grumpy oldster complaining that today's youngsters spend their time listening to crap instead of the good stuff. In a setting by the talented multi-instrumentalist Francesco Landini, it sounds ravishing, sung by two sopranos and tenor with harp accompaniment. Sollazzo Ensemble give us a collection of 13 short songs, each one terrific. Elsewhere, envy’s destructive powers are compared to the glance of a basilisk, and sundry other lyrics rail against dishonesty, deceit and distrust. Yet the effect is always invigorating: numbers like Andrea da Firenze’s “Dal traditor” fizz with energy, and the slower numbers overwhelm. Craziest is the final song, Antonio da Teramo’s “Cacciando per gustar/Ai cinci, ai toppi”. It closes with several minutes of raucous market cries. Chestnuts, figs and Sardinian cheese all feature.

This is an exceptional release, and the most enjoyable early music collection I've encountered. I was lucky enough to hear Sollazzo give the performance which won them first prize in the York Early Music Festival’s International Young Artists Competition back in 2015. I'm still reeling from the experience. Making this recording formed part of their prize. It's phenomenal: excitement, sensuality and sheer fun abound. Sopranos Yukie Sato and Perrine Devillers take on the lion’s share of vocal duties, aided by tenor Vivien Simon. The backings, on, variously, harp and a pair of vielles, are consistently exquisite. Anna Danilevskai’s direction is flawless. Brilliant, in other words.

The Arts Desk
02 December 2017