ACRONYM's third release on Olde Focus Recordings, this time featuring the harmonic and rhythmic surprises of the music of Giovanni Valentini.
|01||Sonata a5 in g|
Sonata a5 in g
|02||Aria a2 in g|
Aria a2 in g
|03||Sonata a5 in C|
Sonata a5 in C
|04||Canzona a6 in g|
Canzona a6 in g
|05||Sonata a4 in d|
Sonata a4 in d
|06||Sonata a5 in g|
Sonata a5 in g
|07||Canzona a6 in d|
Canzona a6 in d
|08||Sonata a5 in a|
Sonata a5 in a
|09||Violin Sonata in D|
Violin Sonata in D
|10||Canzona a5 in G|
Canzona a5 in G
|11||Sonata a3 in C|
Sonata a3 in C
|12||Echo a3 in g|
Echo a3 in g
|13||Sonata a2 in d|
Sonata a2 in d
|14||Canzona a4 in a|
Canzona a4 in a
|15||Canzona a6 in g|
Canzona a6 in g
|16||Sonata a6 in C|
Sonata a6 in C
|17||Sonata a4 in g|
Sonata a4 in g
ACRONYM's latest release is the first recording devoted entirely to the instrumental music of Giovanni Valentini (1582/3-1649), who for more than twenty years was Hofkapellmeister of the Holy Roman Empire before fading into obscurity. Oddities & Trifles pairs selections from Valentini's published 1609 canzonas with nearly all of his extant manuscript sonatas (many of them containing strange chromaticism and metric eccentricities), and it consists almost entirely of premiere recordings.
Valentini was likely a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli, but no records of Valentini are extant prior to 1604 when he was appointed organist of the Polish court chapel at Warsaw. His earliest collections of canzonas (1609) and motets (1611) were published in Venice during his years in Poland. In 1614 he joined the court of the Archduke Ferdinand–soon to be the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II–at Graz, and upon Ferdinand’s 1619 election Valentini moved to Vienna to serve as Imperial organist. He succeeded Giovanni Priuli as Hofkapellmeister in 1626, and he was ennobled in 1627. page 3 of 12From the 1620s through 1640s Valentini oversaw much of the musical life of Vienna. He served as choirmaster at the Michaelerkirche, wrote and produced many of the city’s first operas, and was responsible for the expansion of the already-sizable roster of musicians employed at the Hapsburg court. Valentini also published several collections of poetry beginning in 1626. He was music tutor to the Imperial family and retained his position of Hofkapellmeister under Ferdinand III, who took the throne in 1637. Valentini died in Vienna on April 29/30, 1649 and was succeeded as Kapellmeister by Antonio Bertali (1605-1669), whose instrumental sonatas have also been recorded by ACRONYM on Olde Focus (FCR-901).
violin and viola
viola da gamba
theorbo and guitar
organ and harpsichord
Engineered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio
Recorded at the Old Meeting House, Francestown, NH
Design & Typography by Marc Wolf
Produced by Ryan Streber and members of ACRONYM
Edited by Kivie Cahn-Lipman and Ryan Streber
Ensemble photo by Alice Hixon Kirk
Etchings from Giovanni Battista Bracelli’s Bizarie di varie figure (1624)
Baroque string ensemble ACRONYM is dedicated to giving modern premieres of the wild instrumental music of the seventeenth century. The group formed in 2012 to create the first recording of the "Alphabet Sonatas" of Johann Pezel. ACRONYM's following disc, sonatas by Antonio Bertali, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim; Alex Ross selected it as a CD pick, and Early Music America Magazine wrote "the idiomatic performances and spacious recording by these young musicians are absolutely first rate. This is a disc ... belonging in everyone's collection." In 2015 ACRONYM released a third album—the first recordings of Giovanni Valentini's instrumental works—which was praised in Gramophone for being "played with expertise, enthusiasm, and an almost tactile sense of timbre." In 2016 ACRONYM released its fourth album: Wunderkammer. Upcoming projects include the first recording of Samuel Capricornus's monumental "Jubilus Bernhardi" with the Bach Choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
Early music ensemble ACRONYM's third recording is devoted entirely to 17 canzonas [and sonatas] by the now obscure Giovanni Valentini (c1582-1649), who rose from obscurity himself to become Hofkapellmeister of the Holy Roman Empire and play a part in the diversification of vocal music into purely instrumental roles. The title, 'Oddities & Trifles,' a bow to the composer's slight rhythmic and metric eccentricities, headlines quite a pleasant CD.
Valentini's Canzoni, libro primo, printed in 1609 when Valentini was working in and around the Polish court in Warsaw, showcases the quality that helpted develop his reputation, leading him first to Graz and then to Vienna. Played with expertise, enthusiasm, and an almost tactile sense of timbre by different configuratiuons of ACRONYM's 12-member band, occasionally made more sumptious by a theorbo/guitarist and harpsichord/organist, highlights include a 10-minute-long violin sonata of mellifluous beauty, a delightful organ solo and a concluding, harmonically haunting Sonata a 4 in G minor which may, viola da gambist Kivie Cahn-Lipman in his booklet-notes suggests, "possibly be the first notated ppp in music history."
The sound, recorded at a historic 18th-century meeting house in rural New Hampshire, is intimate and quiet, and yet occasionally almost startling in its clarity anmd realism. Defining an interest in forgotten composers such as Valentini, ACRONYM stands for Altmusik Camerata Resurrecting Old---but New to You---Music." Although Valentini might not have appreciated the name, he would certainly have fallen in love with the playing. --Laurence Vittes
Certainly the disc’s title is intriguing. But based on past experience, listening to many recordings with similar hooks where some obscure yet supposedly worthy music just didn’t live up to its billing, the most I expected was an hour of pleasantly undemanding background entertainment. My only previous encounter with the music of Giovanni Valentini (c.1582-1649) was a 2001 review of a disc of vocal works (see reviews archive), and I was only marginally aware of the ensemble Acronym (although I was familiar with a few of its members, who also play in other groups).
None of this admittedly minimal cognizance prepared me for the absolutely brilliant performances or the fascinating, consistently engaging, and yes, somewhat “peculiar” music–expertly recorded–that emerged as these exceptional musicians began the first track, a G minor sonata in five parts. Within the first 30 seconds–the delightful oddity of Valentini’s writing had already showed itself–my imagined expectation for “undemanding background entertainment” had turned to rapt, seriously focused listening.
The 12-member Acronym bills itself as a “Baroque String Band”, and that’s exactly what it is; and if you’ve ever been queasy about or dismissive of the sound and substance of period-instrument performance, set your concerns aside and listen to these virtuoso string players–their instruments include gambas, violins, violas, cello, violone, theorbo, and harpsichord–as they play the daylights out of music you didn’t even know you loved. Entertainment, yes; this is exactly what this music is supposed to be about, with its frequent “metric eccentricities”, occasional “whimsical motivic material” and “unprepared modulations”, and often surprising chromaticism. The Acronym musicians are not only are aware of these devices, they fully exploit them in the most affecting and skillful manner, neither overplaying nor apologizing for an expressive utterance or effect.
As you listen you sense an exceptional level of communication is going on among the players–there’s no other way to achieve the remarkable coordination of intricate lines, phrasing, and dynamics–and, owing to a fortuitous coincidence, I can assure you that this is the case. Just as I began listening to this recording I noticed that Acronym would be performing in a summer concert series only a few miles from where I live. They didn’t play any Valentini that evening–the varied program of solo-vocal and instrumental works consisted of, if anything, music even more unusual and often astonishingly virtuosic, by composers such as Poglietti, Thieme, Drese, and Bertali, than Valentini’s work–but to see these musicians play (and play with such passion) is to confirm the strong and powerful connectedness of eyes, body movements, and auditory cues that make the performances here so vital and vibrant.
Finally, to return to the disc’s title, I have one suggestion for prospective listeners: Although the words “oddities” and “peculiar” are to some degree accurate, “trifle” in this case should be taken not in its more common sense–“something of little value or importance”–but would be better regarded in association with something delectable and enticing, such as “a dessert made with spongecake pieces, spread with jam, sprinkled with sherry, and layered with custard, fruit, and whipped cream…”, like this disc, irresistible and well worth indulging. - David Vernier, July 2015
There are moments of such harmonic and rhythmic implausibility on this disc that it’s tempting to conclude that Giovanni Valentini’s music is a smart hoax. But no – he was definitely born in Venice in the late 16th century and may have been taught by Gabrieli. He was also a poet, and became Hofkapellmeister to the Viennese court in 1626, remaining influential in the city until his death in 1649. One of Valentini’s works has a notated part for water-filled clay bird whistles, and having access to enharmonic keyboard instruments (where Bb isnot the same as A#) must have encouraged him to develop a freer approach to harmony.
The amount of legwork which must have gone into planning and researching this release is mindboggling. It would also be worthless if the music presented wasn’t up to scratch. Happily, it is, and this delightful release is one of the most striking things I’ve heard this year. The Sonata a5 which opens proceedings is a case in point: 45 seconds in, we’re simultaneously discombobulated and delighted by a chord progression which would still startle if it was written in the mid 20th century. Sample the descending chromatic melody which dominates the tiny Canzona a6. They’re all performed by the 12-piece string ensemble ACRONYM (you’ll have to read the booklet to find out what the letters stand for), negotiating Valentini’s tricky corners with ease. Violinist Beth Wenstrom is outstanding in a substantial solo sonata, and Elliot Figg’s dainty organ playing in a tiny Echo a3 is marvellous. The disc closes with a startling Sonata a4, full of strange sounds and containing, possibly, the first notated ppp in musical history. Fascinating, and fun - this is one of those discs that you’ll buy multiple copies of and thrust into the hands of friends and relatives
Acronym’s latest release is the first recording devoted entirely to the instrumental music of Giovanni Valentini (1582/3-1649), who for more than twenty years was Hofkapellmeister of the Holy Roman Empire before fading into obscurity. ‘Oddities & Trifles’ pairs selections from Valentini’s published 1609 canzonas with nearly all of his extant manuscript sonatas (many of them containing strange chromaticism and metric eccentricities), and it consists almost entirely of premiere recordings.
4.9 stars out of 5
March 15, 2015
It is the ineluctable fate of unknown music by unfamiliar artists on quaint-named labels with brown-on-black covers to fly unopened to the nearest bin. So it’s something of a miracle that you are reading about this release, and something of an act of contrition that I am designating it Album of the Week.
Valentini? No, me neither. It appears he was a Venetian who landed the best job in Vienna – master of music at the imperial household – from the 1620s to his death, aged 66, in April 1649. The job entailed writing lots of operas, oratorios and madrigals. In each genre he made modest advances, according to the wackily named New Hampshire ensemble ACRONYM.
What does Valentini sound like? The sonatas and canzonas could readily be mistaken for Monteverdi on a quiet day and the general impression is that much of this work is intended as background music for state banquets and grand occasions. Every piece on this modest record is a modern premiere and a recorded debut.
An exception is the centrepiece, a Violin Sonata in D, which has a pop-like habit of stating a catchy tune and reverting back to it as a refrain. It’s an attractive foot-tapper of a piece, but an asterisk and footnote in the booklet designate it 'Anonymous', so it might not be Valentini’s after all. Who cares? Anonymity was a much-prized quality in the Baroque era and it offers a welcome antidote to the present cult of celebrity. Never mind who wrote the stuff, just shut your eyes and enjoy it. I did. - April 13, 2015
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