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Review: Heigh Ho Holiday: English Dance and Ballad Music from th e Renaissance by Piva

Piva are a costume band from the Midlands, specializing in music from the Renaissance, and boasting no less than four instrument makers in their line-up – Eric and Jane Moulder, Jim Parr and Tony Millyard – all of whom are regulars at the Blowout. ‘Heigh Ho Holiday’ is their first CD. It presents a fine cross-section of their repertoire and will be a welcome addition to the shelves of all Early Music lovers.

The pieces (all instrumental) are drawn from Playford, Elizabethan ballad sheets, the Fitzwillian Virginal book, Praetorius, Michael and Anthony Holborne, and the instruments used include pipes, hurdy-gurdy, violin, cornett, shawm, recorder and curtal. There is a lovely, sprightly rendition of ‘Nobody’s Jig’, augmented by Jim Parr’s expressive cornett, and some crisp recorder playing throughout (the otherwise comprehensive sleeve notes don’t specify who is doing what on each track, alas). ‘Pavane Lesquercade & Laroque Galliard’ are played with soothing effect on a Great Consort of recorders, while ‘The Hunt’s Uppe’ is given rousing treatment with shawms and curtals.

Only five of the twenty tracks feature bagpipes, and while the playing is measured and workmanlike the pace can drag a little: the pieces lack some of the detail found across the rest of the album and are obscured perhaps by the drones, which I found a little high in the mix. I was rather hoping for more shawm and raushpfeife, which feature strongly in Piva’s live sets and, for me, are the feathers in their velvet caps. That said, my favourite moment on the album is the reprise of the tune in ‘Half Hannikin’, where pipes, sackbut and percussion all crash together, as only pipes, sackbut and percussion can, an uplifting moment. And throughout the album successfully evokes some smoky, oak-panelled, Elizabethan hall, which, to my mind, is the best indication that the music is doing what it should.

A fine debut, then, that is artfully produced, skilfully arranged and worthy of repeated listens.

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