Review of the new Alta Danza CD

[ This article appeared in volume 5 of the Letter of Dance. ]

by Rosina

Alta Danza - Dance Music from 15th-century Italy. Les Haulz et les Bas, dance adviser Vronique Daniels. 1998. Produced in Heidelberg, Germany, by Christophorus, CHR 77208. Distributed in the USA by Qualiton.

Contents: Rostiboli gioioso, Gratioso, Fiore de virtu (composed by one of the musicians, as there is no surviving music for it), Colonesse, Prisonera, Ingrata, Marchesana, Bassadanza (music from a non-dance source), Bassa franzese (using music from the Brussels manuscript), La fia guielmina, Bialte di castiglia (also music from Brussels), Gelosia, Pizochara, VerHepe, Tesara, Damnes (composed by one of the musicians), Voltati in Ça rosina, Castelana (from a non-dance source), Spero, Legiadra, La vita di colino, Bassadanza (from a non-dance source), Saltarello (composed by one of the musicians), Piva (a piva by Dalza.)

Joining Mesura et Arte del Danzare and Forse Che Si, Forse Che No is a third commercially available CD of 15th-century Italian dance music. Like the others, this is a collection of music meant for dancing to, arranged to fit a reconstruction of the dance rather than a non-dancer's aesthetic preferences. Tempi are danceable and repeats occur in the right place.

Because of the variation possible in the interpretation of dances from this period, a given piece is obviously not guaranteed to fit all possible versions. It would have been useful if the booklet had included a shorthand description of the reconstructions, in order to make it clear what they were arranging their music to fit. This is especially the case where music was modified or invented to fit dances lacking music in the sources, and for Marchesana, where they state that extra music that doesn't fit the reconstruction has been included, but don't say where in the dance it occurs. Unfortunately, with the necessity of including four different languages, the booklet is restricted to general background information, and very brief notes on specific dances. The illustrations are extremely nice.

It is very pleasant to have recordings of dances (such as Ingrata, Legiadra, Prisonera and Vita di colino) that were not included on the other two CDs, but it is a pity that Belfiore and Belreguardo should have been left out in favor of including yet another rendition of La fia guielmina, VerHepe and Voltati in Ça rosina. (I won't complain about the Rostiboli, Gelosia and Leoncello, which also appear on all three CDs, as I find they are used much more.)

The clarity of pieces vary - some are extremely easy to follow, such as the Gratioso, while others are quite difficult (again leading to a wish that the reconstructions had been included.) I find the use of horns starts to be overwhelming at times (although I have no objection to them on historical grounds), so it is nice that there are quieter fiddle and lute pieces interspersed with the others.

Despite minor quibbles, I would say that this is a very good recording, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the dance of this period.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl)