Review of Musiche Nuove by Rolf Lislevand, ECM 2006
Among the thoughts and ideas that emerge from the reading of Luciano Berio’s books there is also a special attention about the musician and the contemporary composer’s roles in relation to the past and their musical training. I quote from his book “Remembering the future: “The conservation of the past makes sense because even the most unprepared listener is aware that music cannot be hung on the wall. Music is performed, is constantly in motion, forever “in progress”, especially since there is nothing really permanent to guarantee continuity between the mind of a composer and the hands of a performer, between the musical structure and the levels of articulation, as they are heard.” *. The continuity, the awareness of a culture, of a rich tradition behind our shoulders are therefore seen by the Italian composer, not as a hindrance but as a source, an enrichment and a growth’s possibility for those who don’t play a particular repertoire but must have it in their musical DNA. It’s a vision that expresses an historical relationship that can also be seen in other artistic fields and not: today’s world citizen would be complete and conscious of its role if it ignores what happened before in his country’s history? An architect could imagine new styles and solutions ignoring Gothic cathedrals and Le Corbusier’s teachings?
At the same time, however, we shouldn’t feel ourselves too much bind to the past, avoiding the risk of a sterile repetition of too rigidly defined canons, leaving no room for new interpretations and visions, as always quoting Berio: “But conservation of the past also makes sense ina a negative way, becoming a way of forgetting music. It provides listeners with an illusion of continuity; it gives them the illusion of being free to selct what appears to confirm that continuity, as well as the illusion of being free to censure everything that appears to upset it.”*. Sometimes could be necessary to forget to re-learn and re-read the same things in new and creative ways.
Why this long introduction for this record? Because Norwegian guitarist and lutenist Rolf Lislevand has chosen for his debut for independent ECM label a particular musical approach to seventeenth century’s musical literature interpretation in an attempt to overcome the basic principles so far commonly accepted. Finding himself in front of the clear cross-contradiction inherent in an attempt to recreate Renaissance and Baroque music (how a contemporary musician can pretend that music hasn’t continued to grow from 1600 to today, how can he deny its presence in his learning and in his cultural baggage, how can play it again exactly as it was played in the ‘600 in a society in the meantime has also changed), Lislevand has courageously decided to abandon any precoded attempt to play these scores in a perfect philological way, prefering to try to recreate its inner spirit through improvisation, an essential thing for any successful performance of this music. Kapsberger, Pellegrini, Piccinini, de Narvaez, Frescobaldi and Gianoncelli’s musics flow continuously as a single suite, where original passacaglias and toccate mixed themselves with the results of improvisations born in the studio with the group of musicians playing with Maestro Lislevand: like the harpist and singer Arianna Savall and Bjorn Kjellemir (bassist already playing with Terje Rypdal in Chasers’ band). The result is simply fascinating, although traditionalists may be perplexed about this decidedly unconventional approach,. The music flows gentle and melodious, there are no tensions, no surface ripples, just a single, positive, wonderful beauty. Lislevand manages to renew this ancient music remaining faithful, bringing it outside those virtual museums in which it had been locked up because of using too strict performance practices. Is it possibile to play Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, Caccini, Kapsberger and others’ music being at the same time a contemporary player? Lislevand gives us a good answer.
* Luciano Berio, Remembering the future, Harvard University Press, 2006, pag. 62