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BACK BEFORE BACH - Musical Journeys - Piffaro - The Renaissance Band - 896931004060 - Released: July 2017 - Navona Records NV6106

Nothing brings back the sights, sounds and smells of a Renaissance fair quite like the sound of sackbuts, krumhorns and shawns. And nobody knows and plays these period instruments, along with recorders, bagpipes and lutes, as well as Piffaro: The Renaissance Band. They started out in 1980 and released their first recording in the early 90s on the Newport Classics label under the name of "The Philadelphia Renaissance Wind Band". This was quickly followed in 1995 by a multiple album contract on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon/Archiv Produktion label, then three releases on Dorian, a handful on their own label, a Christmas collection, and this latest recording is their fourth release on Navona Records, a label based in New Hampshire, for a total of 18 CDs released over a span of about 25 years. So I believe it's safe to say that this music is in their bones and that these instruments have become extensions of their bodies. The seven band members play a range of about 40 instruments, most of which are masterfully crafted replicas of the originals.

The music featured on this CD spans a period of about 250 years, from the mid 1400s up to and including two Chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach. Some of the composers on hand include Heinrich Isaac, Michael Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt, Orlando de Lassus and Jakob Obrecht. Highlights include a Chorale 4 by Praetorius, an Instrumental Fantasy arranged by Joan Kimball, artistic co-director and a founding member of the ensemble, the Intrada by Johann Ghro, and La Volta by Praetorius. It's always fascinating to hear how composers of that time were slowly unfolding harmonic discoveries that eventually led to the complex contrapuntal works of Bach.

Ensembles that specialize in strictly instrumental music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods are rare, and ones that can recreate the authentic character of that music as well as Piffaro even scarcer. So who needs a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 automobile to time travel. Just listen to this CD and travel back 500 years or so and hear the cutting edge instruments of the day.

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2017