Los Ministriles

UnknownLos Ministriles in the New World is the title of a 2012 CD by Piffaro to which I have been listening with pleasure lately. Piffaro is a group of instrumentalists playing music of the renaissance, mostly for winds – recorders, sackbuts, shawms and so forth – but also some plucked instruments and percussion. The program is Spanish music of the 16th and 17th centuries, both from Spain itself and from the New World. I have learned from my own experience with early instruments (in the pieces recorded on this album and this one), that a finely played recorder seems closer to a human voice than any modern instrument, no matter how well played. Thus Piffaro forms a well-balanced and subtly nuanced choir, one capable of both lyrical pieces based on liturgical music or robust dances, salted with snazzy percussion. The album is varied and well-ordered, but the music is more charming than profound, and 30 tracks is a lot of charm. But there’s no reason to take it all in one sitting.  Navona Records has packaged the album handsomely, with supplemental program notes available when you insert the disc in your computer. The recording and editing of the album is by George Blood Audio, and my friend George, along with colleague Tad Matsuura, got a warm, clear sound for the group.

Here are some samples from the album:

Congrats, Kile!

After 30 years, Kile Smith is retiring from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. It seemed like a good moment to listen again to Kile’s Vespers, the work he created for the Renaissance wind band Piffaro and Philadelphia’s The Crossing. In the piece, Kile draws gorgeous and endlessly varied harmonies out of a surprising limited array of pitches – the score doesn’t have a single accidental until the third movement. I know of no more successful piece for old instruments by a contemporary composer (I should know, I tried it myself.) My one quibble is that although it is intended as a Lutheran Vespers and the work is full of Lutheran chorale tunes, the pandiatonic idiom seems something that springs more from am English modal tradition, or even the diatonicism of Catholic chant, rather than the darker harmonic worlds of Schütz and Bach. No matter, the vocabulary serves the texts and the expressive intent beautifully.

By the way, Piffaro has fascinating video and more about their arsenal of instruments here.