- Published on Amazon.com
This is one of the classic renditions of select Dances from the collection compiled by Michael Praetorius and published in 1612 under the title "Terpsichore". It is an ensemble called Collegium Terpsichore, led by Fritz Neumeyer that, in 1960, brought back that collection and composer to the public's attention, through six excerpts out of the collection's intimidating 311, together with Suites of Schein and more dances by Erasmus Widmann (see my review of Renaissance Dance Music), and for a number of years Collegium Terpsichore had the Terpsichore field to themselves. Then came, in close sucession, David Munrow and his Early Music Consort of London in 1973 (but in only a short sample of 14 dances, making up one side of the original LP, the other one being a collection of motets, Dances from Terpsichore; Motets from Musae Sioniae and other collections), eight more by Ulsamer Collegium in 1973 (now gathered on Terpsichore: Renaissance Dance Music and Early Baroque Dance Music Ulsamer-Collegium (Archiv) or Tanzmusik: von der Renaissance bis zum Biedermeier / Dance Music Through the Ages), and the same year a substantial, all-Praetorius collection on EMI Relflexe by the Ricercare Ensemble für alte Musik of Zürich, totaling 51 minutes, Terpsichore.
In Praetorius' compilation the dances are not instrumented, they come only in three-to-six part scores with no indications of instruments. Pickett, recorded in March 1985, had been a member of Munrow's Early Music Consort of London, playing the recorder and crumhorn, and it may be taken as a secret homage to Munrow - other than his ensemble's name, the New London Consort - that he should start with the same Passameze that opened Munrow's recording, and duplicate 11 other dances that were on Munrow's recital. More significant, his approach to instrumentation is very similar to what it was with his predecessors (and in some cases he seems to use the same arrangements as Munrow): he uses a vast array of Renaissance instruments, changing fom dance to dance and even within suites of dances that make up single tracks, thus providing great diversity from dance to dance, and a character that's festive, boisterous, dance like, even regal when the full band is employed as in the opening Passameze, or the cornets and sackbuts (track 11 Passameze pour les cornetz, track 14 Volte du Tambour) or trumpets and sackbuts (Courrant de Bataglia, track 12) and various others. But his instrumentation is also sometimes reduced to two harps (track 4, Bransles), harpsichord, lute and theorbo (track 10 Pavane de Spaigne) or two lutes (Spagnoletta), making, in the two latter, his version absolutely non-comparable - and more gentle and wistful - with the instrumentation for strings adopted by Collegium Terpsichore in Spagnoletta and for recorders, lute and racket (a Renaissance reed instrument) with Munrow in the same dance, and for brass in the Pavane.
Because some of the dances are played in the form of suites, Pickett tackles more dances than there are tracks: in all 29 dances, almost 10% of Praetorius' collection. Not all are by Praetorius: some are anonymous, some others were passed on to Praetorius by the French Dance master Pierre-Francisque Caroubel: they are always clearly indicated. I haven't systematically checked, but I've spotted small misattributions in Pickett's booklet: in track 7, comprised of four Ballets, the "Ballet des Princesses", by an anonymous composer, is attributed twice, first as No. 278 and again as No. 277. But there are no two Ballets des Princesses in Praetorius' collection, No. 278 is in fact the Ballet des Baccanales. This is a typo and Pickett just repeats No. 277 after a middle part made of another Ballet - itself wrongly said to be 267: it is in fact 268. Pickett in fact plays the "Ballet des Baccanales" track 8. He also repeats one dance, the Bransle de la Torche (No. 15), in two completely different instrumentations, track 3 (stings) and 9 (reeds, regal - a portable organ - and tabor = drums).
For those interested in such matters, here's the complete listing of what Pickett plays. FC means the composer is Caroubel, "anon." is anonymous, no indication is Praetorius: I give them in the order of Praetorius' collection:
4 Bransles simples, Bransles gays, Bransles doubles à 5 (FC): track 4
14 Bransles de Villages à 5: track 5
15 Bransle de la Torche à 5: track 3 & 9
22 Bransle Philou a 4: track 6
28 Spagnoletta/L'espagnolette à 4: track 10
30 La Pavane de Spaigne à 4: track 10
32 Bourrée a 4: track 2
33 La Sarabande à 5: track 13
48 Courrant de Bataglia à 5: track 12
150 Courante M.M. Wüstrow à 4: track 12
179 Courante à 4: track 12
199 Volte du Tambour à 5: track 14
201 Volte à 5: track 14
210 Volte à 5: track 14
211 Volte à 5: track 14
223 Volte à 5 (FC): track 14
236 Volte à 4: track 14
242 Volte à 4: track 14
243 Volte à 4: track 14
254 Ballet des coqs à 5: track 8
262 Ballet des sorciers qu'il fault sonner devant le ballet du Roy à 4: track 7
268 Ballet à 4 (anon): track 7 (misattributed 267)
274 Ballet à 4 (anon): track 8
277 Ballet des Princesses à 4 (anon): track 7
278 Ballet des Baccanales à 4: track 8
280 Ballet des Matelotz à 4: track 8
286 Passameze a 6 (FC): track 1
287 Gaillarde a 5 (FC): track 1
288 Passameze pour les cornetz (FC): track 11
Special timbral highlights in Pickett's rendition are the nasal and grating timbres of the reed instruments (curtal aka dulcian, racketts) and regal (track 2 bourrée, track 8 Suite of Ballets, track 9 Bransle de la Torche), the hurdy gurdy in track 5, evidently justified by the country origin of theses "Bransles de Villages", the dulcimer and xylophone in track 6 ("Bransle Philou"). Another point in favor of Pickett and his band is that they often ornament the repeats, if even discreetly.
Fine booklet too, with informative liner notes by Clifford Bartlett, enhanced by reproductions from the engravings of Renaissance instruments from the "Terpsichore" collection - one of the main sources of information on the Renaissance instrumentarium. The only regret then is that there's only 50 minutes of it. With 25 more, Pickett would have given us 15 percent of Praetorius' collection. It's interesting to note that recent musicological contributions tend to conclude that the dances were never played back then with such a wealth of instrumentation, but rather with string ensembles: I'm referring here to an article of Peter Holman published in the Viola da Gamba Society Journal in 2012 and available online. So it's probably interesting to complement this CD with the one recorded precisely by Holman, for Hyperion, in 2000, Music From Terpsichore (I haven't yet, but I will). But, entirely "authentic" or not, this recording will provide great excitement and pleasure, and remains one of the best introductions to those dances of Terpsichore.