Home listening: Leonardo the musician

Doulce Mémoire give us Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest hits, sort of. Plus, a virtuoso turn from Giovanni Antonini

• The anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death is a good moment to remember that as well as being a great artist, inventor and observer of everything, Leonardo was regarded as a great musician. He invented instruments, studied acoustics, and was a famed singer who accompanied himself on the lira da braccio. In the absence of any surviving pieces by him, in Leonardo da Vinci: La musique secrète (Alpha Classics), the ensemble Doulce Mémoire has tried to unlock the meanings of some of Leonardo’s finest paintings by matching them with contemporary scores.

Apart from naughtily turning a version of an anonymous chanson into “Mona Lisa pulchra”, there are no direct links. The performances under Denis Raisin Dadre are rather cool; well produced, with fine, large-format Leonardo reproductions, the album is perhaps best used as general cultural context for one of our greatest minds, rather than being slavishly followed for its sometimes forced connections.

• Also on Alpha Classics is a wild and wonderful selection from the 15th to the 17th century called The Death of Reason. Dominated by the virtuoso flute and recorder playing of Il Giardino Armonico’s Giovanni Antonini, this is a personal journey from the late middle ages to the early baroque, taking in a Dunstable puzzle canon, Agricola’s variations on a Josquin chanson, Mainerio dances and a resonant eight-voice Gabrieli sonata. Whether the 27 miniature tracks really add up is anyone’s guess, but it’s a breathless and entertaining ride.

• Radio 4 marked the Leonardo da Vinci anniversary last week with The Five Faces of Leonardo (BBC Sounds), while a recent Radio 3 Composer of the Week (now a podcast) gave us the opportunity to encounter Handel’s Messiah and related pieces in many different versions, linked by Ruth Smith’s pertinent political comments. I admired her emphasis on Handel’s use of rhetoric, but I doubt that the emphases in his texts were as subtle as she claimed – was his English ever quite that good?

Contributor

Nicholas Kenyon

The GuardianTramp

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