CD Reviews

It seems that the folias originated as a lively — not to say wild — street dance in Portugal. The basic concept, however, of a repeated bass-line such as is to be found in the folios was probably widespread in improvised dance and instrumental music, more and more of which came to be written down in the course of the 16th century. Belladonna’s attractive CD explores some of the repertory based on this musical idea, from the straightforward recercadas of Diego Ortiz to the highly elaborate variations on the socalled Polies d’Espagne by Mann Marais.

Some of the pieces are arranged from keyboard pieces for the group’s trio sonata combination of violin, recorder and continuo, and these work very well. Particularly interesting for the instrumental colours thus thrown up is the arrangement of Cabanilles’s jilt-aril, which seems to retain something of the reputed wildness of the original dance. The pieces on this disc, with the exception of the Marais, come from either side of the Spanish-Neapolitan axis and represent a good range of the instrumental genres developed in the 17th century, from exploratory, semi-improvisatory fugal textures to full-blown sets of variations.

The individual members of Belladonna are clearly virtuosos who bring a good deal of panache to the music: not afraid to indulge some of the more baroque or quirky elements in the instrumental writing, they also offer plenty of the ‘spontaneous energy’ that the accompanying notes describe as pertaining to popular music. For example, they bring out well the sense of a popettrum mobile in Merula’s Canzona Lusignuola, and Falconieri’s Folias for his lady are deliciously upbeat and lively. The sound is bright and vibrant — perhaps occasionally too umremittingly so — and the overall presentation excellent: the CD cover picture (a quartet of lady instrumentalists from Mercier’s The sense of hearing) is highly appropriate. An enjoyable and well-thought-out recording.

– Tess Knighton, Grammaphone Magazine, review of Folias Festivas, December 2001

Brightening the northern horizon considerably, the four fine musicians of Belladonna have been electrifying audiences in the Twin Cities, as well as internationally, for many years. Each member is a virtuoso in her own right, and over the years they have made many contributions to the other notable Twin Cities early music ensembles, especially the Lyra Concert baroque orchestra and Ex Machina baroque opera company.

As the Belladonna Baroque Quartet, they have produced many feisty, imaginative performances. Yet I was taken aback at their idea of collaborating with a traditional Chinese musician in what must be a rare if not unique experiment, combining the folk music traditions of two very different cultures in an unlikely esperanto of 17th-century European music played on recorder, violin, cello, harpsichord, and pipa.

The program is a skillful mélange of Chinese and Western music. There are some fairly straight readings of early baroque dances, which get a little “lift” from the extra, “foreign”-sounding dimension of the pipa in an accompanying role. Then there are beautiful, lyrical Chinese pieces, which combine the pipa as the solo instrument with the warm, sustained sound of the cello or recorder.

Of course, many of the pieces on this recording were adapted in some way to accommodate the unusual instrumentation, but I would especially like to mention the “arrangements”, which are more like completely original compositions, by harpsichordist Barbara Weiss. The term “crossover” doesn’t begin to do justice to the originality of her pieces, which combine east and west, old and new, and classical, traditional, and popular, to make these pieces the highlights of the CD.

            – Peter Nothnagle, online, review of Gathering, December 2007