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Damiano Mercuri - Plays European Music and Ballads from Renaissance [Eastern Front Records - 2009]

I sometimes wonder if independent music’s past is classical music’s future. With orchestras going bankrupt, opera houses teetering on the edge of insolvency, radio stations vanishing from the dial and the art of musical performance in general threatening to join the buggy-whip makers, I can’t help but imagine that only tiny independent hold-outs may keep the whole thing alive in the years to come.

Maybe that sounds like a gloomy way to launch into a discussion of Damiano Mercuri’s accomplished album of solo guitar.  The title explains it: compiled here are a slew of short but well-performed pieces for guitar from three countries (England, Italy and Spain) dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries, “probably the most representative styles of that age”, as the liner notes put it. There’s no attempt to trick them up or add anything that doesn’t belong there: it’s just one man, his guitar, and a series of very accomplished performances.

The tracks were all recorded at different times and places, and so the sound is not perfectly polished and consistent. Sometimes this means the engineering is a little off: track 5, for instance, has some slight in-the-red distortion. That said, I would sooner take a gaffe or two at the mixing panel if it meant I’d be getting that much more inspired a piece of work. My knowledge of this type of music is skimpier than it ought to be—the only piece that I recognized off the bat was the old chestnut “Greensleeves”—but it doesn’t take a musicologist to hear talent and dedication.

I mentioned the indie-music-as-classical’s-savior angle if only because the disc was not issued on any major, or even minor, classical label—it was released by the folks at The Eastern Front, and so was clearly a labor of love and not of commerce (the disc is a limited edition of 500). If classic music continues its downward slide—a lot of that, from what I’ve seen, fueled by the stasis and uncreative business practices of the people responsible for it—then its future may well be emblemized by this sort of product. Maybe that’s not so bad, is it?

Mercuri’s both a solo performer and a member of the  “neo-folk” project Rose Rovine E Amauli. There’s a disc from them waiting to be reviewed by me, so it should make for an interesting contrast. Now that he’s shown he knows his classics, let’s see what sort of trail he can blaze by himself.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Serdar Yegulalp
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