Early Music Review

By Brian Clark

Posted: November 27, 2018

REVIEW: The Battle, the Bethel & the Ball

ONE MIGHT WORRY that five of the seven works on a CD are only attributed to the composer whose name it bears, but when the attribution is sanctioned by an expert like Charles Brewer, one need have little real anxiety. While Biber was far from being the only “crazy” composer of his day (Schmelzer wrote music in 5/4 time, Valentini’s harmonic shifts are sometimes reminiscent of Prokoviev, to name but two!), the works in question do bear too many of his signature traits for there to be any serious doubt. The programme is bookended by a remarkable Sonata Jucunda a5 which pushes 17th-century harmony to the limits and the composer’s Battalia with its renowned combination of folk songs in different keys. Sandwiched in between are solo motets for soprano and baritone with distuned violin, solos for gamba and violin with continuo (the latter is the longer version of the increasingly popular Ciacona) and another attribution, this time a set of dances for two instrumental groups, which plays very cleverly with the imitative possibilities of the music. As with their previous recordings, ACRONYM (aka Anachronistic Cooperative Realizing Obscure Nuanced Yesteryear’s Masterpieces!) absolutely throw themselves into this wild world and relish every note – soprano Molly Quinn and baritone Jesse Blumberg need no introduction to regular readers of these pages, and their contribution matches the instrumentalists perfectly. The recording is beautifully clear – try the opening of track 2 (O Dulcis Jesu), where the string bass, organ and theorbo are all distinctly audible, while Molly Quinn’s voice floats effortlessly across the top. The booklet notes are brief but pertinent and translations are given of both of the sung texts. I hope I don’t have to wait too long for ACRONYM’s next release!

American Record Guide

By Peter V Loewen

Posted: March/April 2018

REVIEW: Capricornus: Jubilus Bernhardi Collection

Samuel Capricornus (1628-65) composed his Jubilus Bernhardi in 1660, while serving as choirmaster at the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart. It is a collection of 24 sacred Latin concertos for five solo voices, chorus, viol consort, and continuo. Composed in the Italian stile moderno, the concertos strike me as strongly reminiscent of Heinrich Schütz's Op. 6 Symphoniae Sacrae (1629), minus the variety of wind instruments in Schütz's orchestration. Such mastery of the Italian style would suggest a prolonged period of study in Italy, but that appears not to have been the case. Rather, Capricornus may have learned it in Vienna while working in the Imperial Chapel under Giovanni Valentini and Antonio Bertali. And, of course, there is also the possibility that he knew Schütz's Op. 6 and imitated its style. Regardless, it is an effective set of concertos, brilliantly performed by the Bach Choir of Holy Trinity and the string ensemble Acronym.

Each concerto has its own charm, beginning with its short Sinfonia. There is the remarkable use of dissonance between the upper voices in 'Cum Maria Diluculo.' The descending chromatic motives in 'Jesu, Rex Admirabilis,' with pairs of voices on the words "dulcedo ineffabilis" (ineffable sweetness), sounds dramatic if also ironic. The "call and response" between soprano and chorus in 'Jesu, Mi Bone, Sentiam' sounds playful, as though it were a simple dance song. Cross rhythms and hemiolas in 'Tua, Jesu, Dilectio' seem analogous to the spiritual struggle inherent in its words. The plodding, chaconne-like progressions of 'Amor Tuus Continuus' get to the heart of the obsessive "laguor" of love described in the text. And each variation impresses on the listener the meaning behind the words "mihi Jesus mellifluus." Notes are brief and texts are in English.

 

Early Music Review

By David Stancliffe

Posted: February 10, 2018

REVIEW: Capricornus: The Jubilus Bernhardi Collection

This splendid recording of an unjustly under-recorded collection by first class musicians deserves to be widely known, and I hope that Brian Clark, who writes the brief note that accompanies the two CDs, can advertise the edition he made widely. This is beautiful music, and eminently performable.

The music first: Samuel Capricornus died at the age of 37 in 1665, so is more than a generation younger than Heinrich Schütz, who clearly thought well of him, writing after receiving his Opus Musicum  “your remarkable works have been passed on to me and they fill me with delight. Go on serving God and his Church in this fashion.” Capricornus was the son of a Lutheran pastor who had sought security for his Lutheran beliefs in what is now the Czech Republic. Having worked at the Imperial Chapel in Vienna under the Italians Giovanni Valentini and Antonio Bertali – rather a different cultural and religious milieu from home – Capricornus was appointed Kapellmeister to the Court in Stuttgart in 1657. These 24 motets from 1660 form a sequence scored for five voices (SSATB), and 5-part viol consort with continuo. In spite of the same scoring for each motet, the Jubilus Bernhardi  motets have a great variety of expressive content and a rich and characterful style of word setting. For all their underlying motet style – they are genuinely German/Bohemian versions of the seconda prattica. They have echoes of Monteverdi’s Selva Morale  as well as links to the emerging German school represented by Tunder and Kuhnau. In some sense, they occupy the same territory as the Gibbons and Tomkins verse anthems in England, alternating passages for one or more voices and instruments with full sections.

That is at any rate how they are performed by the ten singers of the Bach Choir of Holy Trinity, the Evangelical Lutheran church in New York that specialises in Bach and his Lutheran forerunners under the direction of the Cantor, Donald Meineke, with five viol players (and a continuo consisting of theorbo and keyboard) from ACRONYM. The performances are in the same league as those of Vox Luminis, and use the same vocal forces. The Sopranos are excellent: clean, clear and well-blended, and the Hautes-Contres, the Tenors and even the Basses have the same verbal dexterity. Only occasionally was I conscious of a slightly bleating tenor sound, and the bass line is coloured by a real, plummy bass with a wonderful range which is of a distinctively different timbre. But this is a class act by an ensemble of young-sounding voices and they have released recent videos on Youtube which provide the score as the visual accompaniment. From that it becomes clear that they are performing at A=440, though no details of this or the temperament at which the keyboard is tuned or the makers or provenance of the instruments is given in the extremely slender notes on the attractive card case; the liner notes themselves have nothing but the text and an English translation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s verses.

I find the music captivating in its variety, and exciting for the way in which the rhythms of the texts are captured, not just in the episodes for solo voices but in the more homophonic sections – those that are doubled by ripienists.

I have not heard any Capricornus before, but this is music that ranks in individuality with Monteverdi and Schütz, providing a fascinating insight into the musical links between Italy and Germany. Some of his works are available in facsimile from IMSLP, and range from sonatas in 8 parts to small-scale motets: Paratum cor meum  is for two treble and one bass voice, a cornetto and continuo marked for organ. Vocal works and instrumental pieces alike are imaginatively scored, the discs are well-engineered and I urge you to listen to as much as you can as soon as possible, and absorb this fascinating sound-world.

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Star News Online

By Bob Workmon

Posted: February 16, 2018

REVIEW: Chamber music group ACRONYM makes the old new

Chamber Music Wilmington has a wild surprise for area music fans. On Sunday, Feb. 25, the early-music group ACRONYM arrives up for a masterclass in WHQR’s M.C. Erny Gallery, followed that evening by a full concert at Beckwith Recital Hall on the University of North Carolina Wilmington campus.

Wild how? You may well ask. For starters, ACRONYM’s 12 members have earned a reputation for fearless performances of 17th-century music and for resurrecting the spirits of long-forgotten composers. And then there’s the youthful energy this band of twenty- and thirty-somethings brings to music that some would dismiss as best left in a library basement.

Loren Ludwig, one of ACRONYM’s spokespersons and a viola da gamba virtuoso (it’s like a cello that you actually have to hold up with your legs), responded to email questions last weekend from his home in Baltimore. His response to the question “Is ACRONYM an acronym?” says a lot about the group and its fun approach.

“We’re always looking,” Ludwig wrote. “A few favorites: Albino-squirrel Consort Radiating from Oberlin via New York, Mostly; Altmusik Camerata Resurrecting Old -- but New to You -- Music; A Cabinet of Rather Odd and Nutty Young Musicians; etc. We use a new one for each recording,” of which the group has six.

The ACRONYM ensemble came into existence in 2012 when gamba player Kivie Cahn-Lipman assembled the band to record a then little-known collection of sonatas by the 17th-century German composer Johann Pezel.

“Many of us were already friends from Oberlin and/or Julliard and we had such a great time recording Pezel that we decided that we’d keep playing together as a group,” Ludwig said.

The ensemble has a mission, which Ludwig said is to “have a wonderful time exploring the amazing and still relatively unknown 17th century chamber music buried in libraries and archives across Europe.”

Ludwig said that the each of ACRONYM’s recordings and its concerts feature music from the first half of the 17th century for large string ensemble unheard for about 400 years.

“We’ve created a lot of fans of those obscure and long-forgotten composers who were often quite famous in their day,” he said. “Antonio Bertali and Giovanni Valentini are two good examples.”

For Wilmington, Ludwig said, ACRONYM is excited to play some “very modern” music, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and his concerto for lute and viola d’amore.

“It’s the first time that we’ve programmed 18th century music and we’ll also be playing some of our more typical 17th century repertoire by Bertali, Rosenmuller and Valentini.”

Ludwig said that what sets ACRONYM’s interpretation of Vivaldi apart from so many others is that, for the group, it represents “bracingly new music.”

“It’s decades later than most of the music we play as ACRONYM and it’s really fun to experience Vivaldi as ‘new music,’” he said. “Also, we are a chamber group, rather than an orchestra, so we’ll be playing Vivaldi’s orchestral parts one-on-a-part as chamber music. While that means that our performance won’t be as loud as an orchestra, it also means that the textures and interplay of the parts will come to fore in an exciting way.”

In the end, Ludwig said, “It makes us happy when audiences see how much we love this music and how much we enjoy playing together. If they take away a new love for a previously unknown composer, that’s not a bad thing, either!”

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Early Music Review

By D. James Ross

Posted: January 1, 2018

REVIEW: Wunderkammer

The qualifications for admission to Acronym’s cabinet of curiosities seems at first a bit vague – all the music here seems to share is obscurity and a degree of eccentricity, the latter very much in the ear of the listener. However, the cabinet turns out to be a wonderful conceit to permit the performance of a delightful range of neglected music for strings from 17th-century Germany. Beautifully and expressively played by the small period string ensemble, it is revealed as indeed a box of unsuspected treasures. When the programme notes for a CD include the phrase ‘of the ten composers on this recording, probably the best-known is the violinist Antonio Bertali’, you know you are in for a cruise through genuine musical backwaters. Music by Bertali rubs shoulders with works by Samuel Capricornus, Adam Drese, Johann Philipp Krieger, Andreas Oswald, Daniel Eberlin, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Georg Piscator, Alessandro Poglietti and Clemens Thieme, a catalogue of names some of which lurk in the shadows at the edge of my experience but by none of whom could I name a single work.

This plethora of unfamiliar composers reflects the political fragmentation of 17th-century Germany which at this time was a patchwork of semi-independent states. Fortunately, many of these were wealthy enough to employ the services of musicians, and the presence of many small ensembles and the competition between these statelets proved fertile ground for an explosion in composition. Furthermore, competition rather than collaboration led to what we would now regard as musical eccentricity and the cultivation of the individual and distinctive. This very informative trawl through 17th-century German repertoire helps to put composers such as the Austrian Heinrich Biber in a more comprehensible context, but most of this music is also extremely enjoyable in its own right, and Acronym are to be congratulated for their intrepid trawl through voluminous archives to find it, and to perform it so convincingly.

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Early Music Review

By D. James Ross

Posted: January 1, 2018

REVIEW: Oddities and Trifles

When I tell you that Giovanni Valentini preceded Antonio Bertali as Kapellmeister in Vienna, your reaction probably depends on your familiarity with Acronym’s recording entitled Wunderkammer, which explores the music of 17th-century Germany, and which places Bertali’s music in a wider context. Valentini’s quirky compositions provide the musical foundations on which Bertali was building, and – as with Bertali – it is easy to hear the links with the eccentric music of the likes of Heinrich Biber from nearby Salzburg. For a representative sample of Valentini’s striking originality, listen to track 3, his Sonata in C (and indeed every other tonality); this was the piece which I heard some time ago on Radio 3, first alerting me to the existence of this unsuspected talent.

What is interesting is that Valentini belongs to the generation prior to Biber, and so allows us to trace this eccentric taste in textures and harmonies back to his training in Venice. The loss of his publication Messa, Magnificat e Jubilate Deo  of 1621, containing polychoral music in the grand Venetian style including parts for trumpets, is a tragic one indeed. Imbued with the tradition of the Gabrielis, he seems to have pre-empted Monteverdi in a number of musical developments traditionally ascribed to the latter composer. Boldly original and harmonically daring, Valentini’s music is beautifully played here by the innovative period string ensemble, Acronym, who have uncovered yet another highly distinctive and largely forgotten link in the chain of musical history. For Valentini to dictate musical taste for some 20 years in one of the great musical capitals of Europe, suggests the esteem in which he was held during his own lifetime, and, as we become more familiar with his music, I am sure we will more fully recognize his legacy in the music of the next couple of generations of German composers.

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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

By Rebecca Cypess

Published 2017

REVIEW

To say that the performances are technically impeccable would be merely to scratch the surface; they are, on a deeper level, committed, emotional, intelligent, and sometimes even profound interpretations that must be taken seriously as contributions to both historical knowledge and contemporary artistry.

Full Review HERE

Early Music Magazine, UK

By Michael Talbot

Posted: May 2015

REVIEW: Italian Sonatas for Few and Many Instruments

We move next to two significant maestri di cappella, both Italians, at the imperial court in the mid-17th century: Giovanni Valentini (c.1582-1649) and his successor Antonio Bertali (1605-69). Seventeen largely unknown sonatas and canzonas by Valentini are the subject of Oddities & Trifles: The very peculiar instrumental music of Giovanni Valentini (Olde Focus Recordings FCR904, rec 2014, 69'), presented by a recently formed North American group, Acronym (the name is itself an acronym of a humorous macaronic phrase 'Altmusik Camerata Resurrecting Old - but New to You - Music'). Tremendous dedication and scholarly nous have gone into collecting, editing and in certain instances completing these off-beat, fascinating and sometimes hair-raising pieces for strings and continuo; the ensemble plays not only with gusto and flair, but also with a discipline that belies the chatty, quirky style of the booklet. Valentini's Sonata a4 in G minor ending the recording is itself a kind of musical macaronic since it is written from start to finish (except for the final phrase) as a series of statements and echoes, with the twist that all the echoes are transposed a major 3rd higher to B minor (Acronym compound the weirdness by performing the sonata antiphonally a8). This composer is, frankly, astonishing - absolutely sui generis - in his bold harmonic and tonal juxtapositions and audacities of part-writing, nearly all of which succeed perfectly. I can't wait to hear more of his music.

Bertali, in contrast, is a composer whose moment has already come, even though his complete catalogue of surviving music is not yet on disc, let alone published in a modern edition. Advanced for his time (he is credited, for example, with being the first theorist to advocate the presence of episodes within fugues), he is less openly experimental than Valentini - even if, by ordinary standards, his dissonance-treatment and modulation cross the boundaries - and his major historical achievement seems to have been to provide a model for the serenely introspective, eloquently melodious style cultivated both in Germany (by Rosenmüller and Buxtehude, among many others) and in Italy (by Colonna and Legrenzi) that characterizes the final decades of the 17th century. Acronym's Paradise: Instrumental sonatas of Antonio Bertali (Olde Focus Recordings FCR901, rec 2013, 63'), an anthology of sonatas for various combinations drawn from manuscripts in Kassel, Kroměříž, Uppsala and Wolfenbüttel, provides technically and interpretatively excellent performances.

The New York Times

By James R Oestreich

Posted: May 24 2017

REVIEW: Soloists Unleashed

Each moment kept being more striking than the last in a splendid concert by this 12-member period string group at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side. So, naturally, the last number took the prize. Ending a program of 17th-century works, “From Venice to Vienna,” played with consummate style, grace and unity of spirit, the four violinists took solo turns in Johann Christoph Pezel’s Ciacona in B flat. All were excellent; Adriane Post’s were exquisite. Happily, that performance can be revisited and other discoveries made in the venturesome group’s two-CD set of music by Pezel.

Link to Article

American Record Guide

REVIEW: Johann Rosenmüller in Exile

Johann Rosenmüller (c. 1618-84) was an extraordinarily fine composer—highly regarded by his contemporaries, including Telemann—but he had his share of difficulty. After escaping from prison in Leipzig on charges of sodomy, he found employment in Venice. The motets and sonatas on this release were composed in his period of self-exile, and it is called “Johann Rosenmüller in Exile”. 

This is the fourth recording of Rosenmüller’s music I have reviewed since 2011, and I have not been disappointed yet. In fact, I was so taken by Ensemble Masques’s performance of sonatas from his 1682 Nuremberg collection (ATMA 2660; Sept/Oct 2013) that I soon performed some of them with my own ensemble. This release by Acronym includes sonatas in E minor (No. 8), G minor (No. 4), and A minor (No. 6) from yet another of Rosenmüller’s publications—the Sonate da camera (Venice, 1667), and I am happy to report that they are as exquisite as his later sonatas. Like them they are composed in a single, multi-sectional movement. The major difference between them is that this earlier collection consists of a series of dances, as one would expect of chamber sonatas. Their charm, therefore, stems from frequent transitions from one dance-inspired affect to another, to say nothing of the gorgeous harmonies and expressive use of dissonance. 

In the capable hands of these excellent musicians, they simply could not sound better. Acronym’s 2016 release of sonatas by Krieger, Bertali and the like was brilliant (Olde Focus 906; Sept/Oct 2016). And their recording of Johann Christoph Pezel’s Alphabet Sonatas was one of my Critics’ Choices for 2014 (Olde Focus 903; July/Aug 2014). 

The motets are as beautiful as the sonatas. The program includes Domine Cor Meum Jam Ardet Impatiens, Aude Quid Times Gens Christo Dicata, Salve Mi Jesu, Pater Misericordiae, and Ascendit Invictissimus Salvator. Martha H. Brundage explains in her notes that Rosenmüller’s motets usually begin with a sonata; there follows a sequence of arias and recitatives alternating with short instrumental ritornellos. Adding the voice to the string ensemble seems to further unleash Rosenmüller’s creative genius, to explore new realms of expression distinguished by sudden shifts of rhythm, harmony, and flights of fiuratura in both the voice and violins. Jesse Blumberg’s rich baritone makes an ideal partner for the violin playing of Johanna Novom, Edwin Huizinga, Adriane Post, and Beth Wenstrom. Texts and notes are in English.

Colorado Public Radio

By Jeff Zumfelde

Posted: March 1, 2017

REVIEW: Johann Rosenmüller in Exile

The period music ensemble ACRONYM acts more like a contemporary music group. They call themselves a band, and that feels like a true description and not an affectation. While dedicated to period practice, their playing is not fussy, mannered or artificial. Moreover, the group has focused on recording works by lesser known composers of the early baroque, bringing to light delightfully obscure music. Consider the case of Johann Rosenmuller, who would have been Cantor of Thomaskirche in Leipzig (JS Bach’s future job) in the 1650s but for a scandal that landed him in prison.  He escaped, fled to Italy, played trombone at St. Mark’s in Venice, and eventually became composer for the Ospedale della Pieta where Vivaldi was later employed. His music is no less intriguing than his life. It’s loaded with harmonic surprises and memorable melodies. I enthusiastically recommend all of ACRONYM’s previous releases.

Link to Article

The Strad

By Tim Homfray

Posted: December 2016

REVIEW: Oddities and Trifles: The Very Peculiar Music of Giovanni Valentini. Sonata and canzonas for strings

Giovanni Valentini was born in Venice (or thereabouts) in 1582 (ditto).  He worked in the courts of Warsaw and Vienna and composed a vast amount, but a lot of it wasn't published, and today his music is scattered around Europe.  Acronym (the 'Altmusik Camerata Resurrecting Old - but New to You - Music'), a twelve-strong string band, has tracked down, and in some cases reconstructed, the works on this CD, only one of which, they think, has been recorded before. Valentini was an innovator, with a taste for harmonic and metrical experiment. His liking for chromatic coloration and lingering suspensions is immediately apparent in the opening Sonata no.5 in G minor, switching between slow and energetic, with crisply articulated playing. Many of these works are characterised by constant alternation of contrasting elements, now solemn, now dancing. The writing is rich and captivating, frequently with terrific snapping rhythms.

The 17 tracks here, written for various forces, mostly last between two and five minutes. One of them is longer, a Sonata in D major that runs to over nine minutes. Violinist Beth Wenstrom plays it with vitality and eloquent phrasing, as well as agility: the writing is constantly inventive, sometimes technically demanding and strikingly chromatic. There is some rather wonderful music on this CD, played with textural clarity and warmth, aided by a fine recording.

Link to Article

Philadelphia Inquirer

By David Patrick Stearns

Posted: January 27, 2017

Rosenmüller in Exile.  The backstory is almost as rich as the music in this new recording by the early-music group Acronym and baritone Jesse Blumberg.  Johann Rosenmüller (1619-84) was one of Leipzig's most promising composers until he was arrested for sodomy, escaped from prison, and fled to Venice, where he was a trombonist at St. Mark's Basilica and rebuilt his reputation as a composer.  He wrote this collection of sonatas for string ensemble and cantatas for baritone voice while in exile.  The music is excellent, reflecting some operatic influences of the early baroque period.  Surfaces are poised and glossy, but one need not listen far to hear all kinds of under-the-surface restlessness and anguish.  Curiously, the pieces end almost casually, with a "to-be-continued" quality.  Performances are intelligent and animated.  Sound production is first-class.

Link to Article

New York Classical Review

By George Grella

Posted: January 16, 2017

"The playing Sunday stood out for its gusto and vitality. There was an utter lack of mannerism or curatorial preciousness. This was music played as part of a living tradition, with a sense of normalcy that is the foundation of authenticity.... The music is gorgeous and emotionally haunting, and ACRONYM performed it with moving grace."

Full Article Here

Philadelphia Inquirer REVIEW: David Stearns

Les Canards Chantants and Acronym bring unknown madrigals out of obscurity

By David Patrick Stearns, CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC

POSTED: February 16, 2016

Les Canards Chantants, the Philadelphia area's newest early-music vocal ensemble, collaborates constantly - this time with instrumental group Acronym in a concert of unknown madrigals heard after 400 years of confounding obscurity.

Aimez-vous Giovanni Valentini (1582-1649)?

You would after the Saturday program at the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn. The madrigals are having their modern premieres in a brief tour that started in New York and ends at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Taplin Auditorium in Princeton.

Historically, the madrigals were the first published with sophisticated instrumental parts. On a musical and emotional level, the pieces were the work of a major personality - stimulating, affecting and surprisingly modern.

The Venice-born, Vienna-based Valentini was one of the most successful composers of his day, and also among the most restless. None of the seven madrigals behaved the same way. The first, "See Cloudless May," had the voices ricocheting in numerous directions in a chipper evocation of spring. "These Tears of Mine" was a labyrinth in which every voice had its own journey through darkness, somehow arriving at the same end point at the same time.

"Extinguished in my heart" had a highly charged, almost operatic relationship between music and words that rivaled Valentini's contemporary Monteverdi. "Who Feeds Your Hopes" had the voices divided into sections, often in competition, and then converging with escalating emotional effect.

Interspersed between the vocal works were instrumental sonatas played by the rich-textured 12-member Acronym, which employs a lirone - a seldom-seen missing link between the cello and 12-string guitar. Some of the sonatas had three distinct sections that would become standard 100 years later. One used a fugal counterpoint based on dark, minor-mode descending scales suggesting British composer John Dowland on the verge of suicide.

Of course, this richness wouldn't be apparent without sympathetic, well-played performances from Acronym, whose live performances were more emotionally charged than on its new Valentini album,Oddities & Trifles. The six-voice Canards are highly animated performers, playing off of each other with visual theatricality that bordered on mugging, but never at the expense of elegant vocalism.

And what could be a better setting than the Glencairn Museum with its sumptuously archaic decor?

dstearns@phillynews.com.

Iowa Public Radio - Best of 2015 List feat. ACRONYM!

Giovanni Valentini: Oddities & Trifles: the Very Peculiar Instrumental Music of Giovanni Valentini -ACRONYM Ensemble (Olde Focus 904)- Born in Venice circa 1582, Valentini became the leading musician in Vienna in the early 1600s. The music on this disc is wildly inventive - not at all what you expect - but little of it has been recorded before. I find it hard to imagine better playing than is offered by this 12-member band, some of whom have performed in IPR's studio in Cedar Falls.