I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Marini: Passacaglio

I remember it still: the first time I had really gotten to know the famous Marini Passacaglio for strings. I was in graduate school. The piece was not new. I had the score, though, and sat in the "listening room." I had secured an early Musica Antiqua Köln recording from the library's archives. The piece is seductive, yet simple. On the page, it doesn't look like much. It is odd in that it can be played with one optional (middle) line. Yes, that phrase keeps repeating. But what makes it art, I say, is how it takes the human capacity for passion when performing it. Like a piece of putty that "takes" the impression of your thumb, or a memory-foam pillow that "takes" the impression of your tired head, this piece of music takes-on the impression of the performers especially well. But unlike a solo sonata or concerto, its complexity lies in the fact that all players have to sort of think as one. It's the string ensemble that can stretch the line, add nuance, emphasize a line, etc., that makes a successful performance all the more challenging. For instance, when I compare the thin, hollow sound of Romanesca in their recording, it's one particular sound world. Innocent, perhaps; the taste of your first cappuccino, without too many calories nor too much sugar. Passion is in store in terms of volume and intensity, at least in a more arch-form portrayed by Manze and associates. Musica Antiqua Köln, on the other hand, have a more deluxe string sound, perhaps they're better at the ensemble concept, rich, subtle, and fat. Their idea passion comes in the form of smaller moments, used throughout each strain of the repeated bass. Europa Galante, from their Legrenzi album, also tackle the famous Passacaglio, but at a much faster pace, without the repeats. A thin sound some of them have in this recording, but what's most striking is the percussive harpsichord in the bass. I almost miss Biondi's star role here, I half expect him to break-out in 32nd note runs above the repeated harmony, but we never quite get it; nor do we ever get the polish of Romanesca or rich strings of MAK. Some folks wouldn't find this work of particular interest. But as an example of early Italian baroque string music, and one using a dance form, it might sound bland. The right performance, however, can reveal the art beneath the tones: echoes of subtle, sensual human emotion realized through melodic gesture and supported through harmonies resolving out of dissonance to consonance.

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