Review: York Early Music Festival, Ensemble Lucidarium, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall,

University of York, July 7

"INNOVATION" is the motto of this year’s festival, with Leonardo da Vinci its chosen spearhead, exactly half a millennium after his death. Singer, lutenist and violist, he was a fine musician in addition to his prowess as painter, scientist and inventor.

So it was an inspired gesture to invite Ensemble Lucidarium, based in Northern Italy, to unveil music from Leonardo’s century. More than any other era, it represents the fusion between arts and sciences, especially mathematics, that typified Leonardo’s own quest for innovation, which included the invention of instruments.

Music from the Sforza court in Milan, where Leonardo worked during the 1480s and '90s, dominated the evening. A fluid motet by its most important composer, Franchinus Gaffurius, painted the "closed garden" in which the Annunciation occurred. But it was not long before earthier topics intervened. Salty dances like the piva and romanesca highlighted the frankly jazzy syncopation Italians so favoured. Here the ensemble’s treasure-chest of instruments offered a kaleidoscope of colours.

The group’s four singers revelled in poetry by Petrucci during Venetian chansons which the Duke of Milan, Ludovico, is known to have favoured. Their idiomatic inflexions and elisions, some almost spoken, were especially engaging after the break in music from La Festa del Paradiso, which Ludovico commissioned for Isabella d’Aragona’s marriage to his nephew on January 13 1490. Here we were expertly transported right to the fountainhead of this exciting repertory.

Martin Dreyer