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Rodney Waterman

CD Review for Cinnamon Sticks, The Recorder in Australasia (Vol 1 No.2, May 2001)
by Rodney Waterman

ANIMA — Espiral do tempo MCD 022 (1997), Especiarias MCD 070 (2000).

Isa Taube (voice), Ivan Vilela (Brazilian ten string guitar), João Carlos Dalgalarrondo (percussion), José Eduardo Gramani (Brazilian fiddles), Luiz Henrique Fiaminghi (Brazilian fiddles), Patricía Gatti (harpsichord), Valeria Bittar (recorders). Paulo Freire replaces Ivan Vilela as guitarist on Especiarias and sadly, José () Gramani passed away – this CD is dedicated to his memory.

The Brazilian ensemble ANIMA’s juxtaposition, fusion and extrapolation of early European and traditional Brazilian music is refreshing and exciting — the best ‘world music’ I’ve heard in a long time.

ANIMA was formed in 1988 originally to interpret early European music on period instruments. From 1992 the group began to research it’s own native oral musical tradition and to interweave that into, and alongside, their early music repertoire. Baroque violins were replaced with Brazilian fiddles (rabecas) and the 10-string Brazilian guitar (viola caipira) was added.

The renaissance and baroque recorders and 18th Century harpsichord maintained their place, while voice and percussion instruments from the Arabic and Persian tradition make up the group’s tantalising musical palette.

The result is a convincing original musical style and language — a step beyond dizzying multicultural potpourri — that effortlessly and unapologetically melds ancient art music with living folk song; the ‘sophisticated’ with the ‘crude’. The sleeves notes (Espiral do Tempo) talk of ANIMA’s quest for a "point of convergence" between these two worlds, "an imaginary symbolism [Espiral/spiral] … that connects the individual to the universal".

Perhaps because of Brazil’s rich multicultural past — indigenous, Portuguese, African, Indian etc. — the mix of refined recorders and harpsichord with rustic folk fiddles, steel string guitars and percussion really works. It is a glorious sound. I particularly love the cittern-like tone of the 10-string guitar and how its wiry, percussive ‘continuo’ adds so distinctly to the sound colour. All of the musicians are great improvisers, and there is some wonderful extemporisation. Dalgalarrondo's vibrant and spirited percussion playing is a real highlight.

ANIMA perform mediaeval music as well as anyone, exemplified by their rendition of Se Jamais Jour (anonymous 14th century, Reina Codex), Machaut’s Je Vivroie Liemant and troubadour Peire Cardenal’s Tartarassa ni Voutor (Espiral do Tempo). Singer, Isa Taube, reminds me a little of the Hesperion XX’s great Montserrat Figueras, with her vocal arabesques and ability to ‘soar’ like an eagle, or an angel.

The tuneful and lyrical Brazilian folk songs, and other songs from Catalan and Iberian traditions, are simply beautiful. But ANIMA rarely just lets them lie, and this is when some of the best music making happens. Ó mana (Especiarias) is taken from a collection of folksongs from the Northeast of Brazil made famous by Villá-Lobos in his Bachiana No.4. This mournful dirge transforms into the lively and well-known estampie, La Rotta (anon. 14th century) that is normally preceded by Lamento di Tristan. Ó mana becomes the lament and replaces Tristan — here popular Brazilian culture sits easily next to it’s ancient cousin, connected by the ‘espiral do tempo’.

There are too many gems to mention all in this space, but some of my favourites include the startling ‘chaconne’ (Gotejando - José Gramani,) where the fundamental ostinato is orchestrated by kalimba (African thumb piano) and harpsichord; and Valeria Bittar’s wild, sliding recorder improvisation that quickly falls into a fast saltarello alongside the plaintive traditional Aboio that expresses the melancholy of an abandoned herdsman’s wife (Especiarias). The transition between the many patchworks here, and throughout, is very free and organic.

A timbrel highlight in Espiral do Tempo, and perhaps something unique in recorder literature, occurs at the bridge between A Força do Boi (Citations to the Bull) and Je Vivroie Liement. Rich, deep-pitched recorder vocalisations and upper harmonics, from overblowing, effectively imitate the lowing of a bull and then neatly metamorphose into a grainy bass pedal for the next track, the mediaeval Je Vivroie. It is an inspired moment, earthy and primeval.

The sound production qualities of both CDs are second-to-none and the CD packaging is elaborate. They are both exquisite, hardbound full colour booklets, containing loads of information about ANIMA, each track, and all the lyrics in Brazilian (Portuguese) with English translations.

This music will be an inspiration to those interested in exploring ways of integrating early music idioms and repertoire into dynamic contemporary cultural settings.

These CDs have given me great joy and I highly recommend them to you.

More Information and contacts —

MCD World Music:
Orpheus Music (Australia), publishers of Cinnamon Sticks:

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