Obsessed Rats: Wondrous Voices From Olden Times

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

In case you are sifting through your residual Spanish from college, your rough translation is correct: This early music group calls itself Rats of the Old World, a HIP rat pack founded in 2017 by Floris De Rycker, cruising the authentic-performance scene with the bent neck of a medieval lute sticking through the sunroof. Gesualdo is basically like Sid Vicious, the crudely translated liner notes tell us, and if you’ve read them before listening, you might settle in with a squeamish feeling about the ensuing interpretations of old Italian masters of madrigals and early-Renaissance folk music interludes.

You’d be in for a nice if curious surprise. First, there’s the acoustic. Recorded in the Gothic church of little Montréal-du-Gers (nestled deep into the vineyards of the Armagnac region), your ears are bathed in song. It’s impressive, resonant, perhaps overly rich, as if the singers all sat in a large cistern and you poked your head down to have all the polyphonic sounds float up. With Bach motets the result would be a jumble, but here it provides for one aspect of the unique atmosphere of what is a decidedly atmospheric recording. Then there’s the singing, which also does not conform to the expectations we might have of a well-behaved early music ensemble. One singer sounds as if she imitated a baby-voice (she doesn’t); others as though they were amplified (they’re not). That sounds less appealing on paper than the results manage to be.

The approach pays dividends in that the music written such a long time ago sounds, appropriately, like from a world much further from our own than we are used to. The inflection of notes, the tuning, the character of old instruments like psaltery and kanklės—it all contributes to a sense of gentle alienation. Is this Orlando di Lasso, Vincenczo Galilei, Friulian traditional music (actually sung in the old Friulian language), or are we already on to Arab or even African shores? You could let yourself be distracted by any number of unorthodoxies on the album “Ossesso” (“Obsession”), but it’s much easier and more gratifying to sit back and indulge.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Ossesso

Madrigals & Instrumental Pieces from the Late Middle Ages to the Renaissance by Adrian Willaert, Jacopo da Bologna, Donato da Firenze, Ivo Barry, Jacques Arcadelt, Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, Alonso Mudarra, Vincenzeo Galilei, Filippo de Monte, Francesco Canova da Milano, Hubert Waelrant, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Carlo Gesualdo, Bartolomeo Tromboncino, Michelangelo Galilei, Giaches de Wert, & Orlando di Lasso

    Ratas del Viejo Mundo, Floris De Rycker

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