The Wall Street Journal

03 10 2000

STATI UNITI (USA)

 

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Music Before 1800 at Corpus Christi got off to a lively start with the Italian vocal-instrumental quintet Al Qantarah

The music [...] spoke for itself. Nothing sounded musty or resuscitated

 

 

Opera: The Quintessential Libertine

 

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Music Before 1800 at Corpus Christi got off to a lively start with the Italian vocal-instrumental quintet Al Qantarah, which specializes in medieval Sicilian music and folk music that has been orally transmitted. (Most of the players are ethnomusicologists as well as performers.) This unusually exotic program of sacred music demonstrated some remarkable resemblances between the two: some nasal, melismatic polyphony with a distinctly Arabic flavor, collected near Catania, was decidedly close to pieces from a 12th-century manuscript. The concert included a virtuoso solo performance on a jews harp as well as a pair of dueling tambourines (tam-mureddu) as part of a 14th century dance of death. "Ad mortem festinamus." Half the fun was trying to work out what the group was doing, since it changed the program around and there were no texts. The instruments were also a puzzle. I figured out that what the program called a synphonia was a kind of hurdy-gurdy not the proto-bagpipe of the same name), and the ud was a lute, but I needed to consult reference works at home to distinguish between the riqq (a square proto-tambourine with minicymbals) and the daf (a circular riqq without minicymbals).

The music, fortunately, spoke for itself. Nothing sounded musty or resuscitated. Even the dance of death was catchy.

Heidi Waleson