American Record - Valentini

"Using the eye-catching title, “Oddities & Trifles”—with the subtitle “The Very Peculiar Instrumental Music of Giovanni Valentini”—the ACRONYM ensemble seems to place this disc on the leftovers table at the local fundraising yard sale. It would be mixed in where you’d find knick-knacks and garden ornaments that defy categorization and have a very cheap or pay-what-you-wish price tag. Having written that as a metaphor, I realize that in fact there is a pay-what-you-wish aspect to ACRONYM’s work. More about that later. For now, I want you to know that this program is neither odd nor a trifle and that you should get it.

There’s a vigor in the playing that makes the listener believe in the music and the interpretations. There are 10 string players in ACRONYM, one plucked instrument player (theorbo and guitar), and one keyboard (organ and harpsichord). The players revel in their expertise with excellent swagger, depth, power, and elegance. One can imagine smiles exchanged in the five-part Sonata 8, for example, as the players pirouette through meter changes, stop-on-a-dime turns, and rapid tempos with deft precision. The sound is full and engaging (see Sonata 5), expertly recorded to capture a compelling and rich vibrancy.

Giovanni Valentini (c 1582-1649) was a prolific composer across many genres (including opera, madrigals, and oratorio) and he held the highest positions in several courts in Europe. The 17 pieces here come from manuscript sources or from the 1609 collection that was Valentini’s first published opus. Two sonatas that can “plausibly be attributed” to Valentini are included, and as far as the ensemble is aware, only one piece in the program has been recorded before. Yes, there are certainly some unusual harmonies and—dare I say it—”oddities” in the writing (see Sonata 5 and the anonymous manuscript violin sonata), but the confidence and conviction of the ensemble renders them a pleasure, not a puzzle.

This is ACRONYM’s third CD, and it’s very nice to see our ARG colleague Charles Brewer given the ensemble’s thanks for “excellent transcriptions of several of the manuscript sonatas”. Peter Loewen and I praised ACRONYM’s programs of Pezel and Bertali (NewFocus 903, J/A 2014 & 901, J/A 2014). As for other recordings of Valentini, Mr Loewen, Ardella Crawford, and I have liked a range of vocal and instrumental releases: instrumental “bizzarrias” (Hungaroton 31864, N/D 2000), motets and madrigals (Christophorus 77238, J/F 2002), and courtly vocal music (CPO 777533, J/F 2012).

I admire attention to detail in packaging too: the booklet and cover design use strikingly modern 1624 robot-like etchings that seem from the “wrong” century (not unlike the 14th-Century scissor arches in Wells Cathedral, England); photos of musical sources illustrate the booklet essay; and the players dress for their photo as if for a performance in colors that match the graphic design. Please note how ACRONYM supports itself and read details in the booklet of how you can support them.

-- Catherine Moore, © 2015 American Record Guide