Album Title: Tarantule Tarentele
Performers: The Atrium Musicae de Madrid conducted by Dr. Don Gregorio Paniagua Rodriguez
Label and #: Speakers Corner Harmonia Mundi 379 | LP
Recorded: October 1976

Thirty-some years before l'Arpeggiata released their Tarentella showcased in my favorite discoveries of 2008, another group in Madrid, was bringing this music from the Middle Ages back to life and Harmonia Mundi was there to put to tape this historical recreation. You can imagine my surprise when I realized that this amazing repertoire was once again available on vinyl thanks to the good care of Speakers Corner of Germany.

If you've heard Christina Pluhar's Tarentella, you already know that the Tarantele (Tarentule or Tarentella depending on the region of origin) is a

very diverse musical style that was popular in southern Italy and Spain from 1400 until the mid 1800's and resisted many attempts from the Catholic Church to eradicate it. Dancing the Tarantele remains to this day the only known remedy to the poisonous bite of the tarantula, a large wolf spider found in southern Europe believed to induce various states of stupor, excitement, fever, tremors - and in the case of teenage girls, some very liberated behavior. Dancing the Tarantella was of course a kind of group therapy which had a tendency to get somewhat out of hand and end up in displays the good fathers did not approve of - not unlike the raves of today.

The anecdote aside, taranteles are extremely varied in style, topic and rhythm as the tradition had it that each poison responded to a different music style and the person afflicted could not be relieved of her ailment until the right music was hit upon. Scientists today believe there may be some element of truth to the origin of this legend but the culprit would be a far smaller spider, Latrodectus tredecim guttatus, found in the cereal fields of southern Europe during harvest time. Its poison may actually cause some of the symptoms attributed to the far more visible yet mostly harmless tarantula. Whether dancing was a true relief to the fevers by sweating the poison out; or whether the symptoms became a good excuse to imbibe libations uninhibitedly which the church would have frowned upon otherwise... well, your guess is as good as mine.

The present recording offers a completely different take on these melodies than l'Arpeggiata, offering a re-orchestration that sounds both more medieval in spirit and far more diverse in sonority and geographical origin. Where Pluhar focused on Italy and a more Middle-Eastern influence, Gregorio Paniagua draws a lot more of his inspiration from Spanish themes and sounds, but with a far greater freedom in the instruments used and their sometime comically cacophonic interventions. The result is mesmerizing, surprising and plain fun. Music from the Middle Ages can seem challenging at times and hardly harmonic. These arrangements on the other hand come from a repertoire of folk songs and tunes and Paniagua gives them a second life that is jubilatory.

Beyond the fact that the music is rare or original and the interpretation exciting, the greatest surprise for me was the sonic quality of this Harmonia Mundi recording. Each instrument is precisely located and identifiable, percussions are dry and fast with all their secondary harmonies clearly audible, flutes are woody yet lightning fast and even the positive organ that makes an occasional appearance sounds real. The release by Speakers Corner preserves these wonderful qualities and ambiance, proving once more that they are at the very top of the art of vinyl re-editions. The disc I received was absolutely pristine, with not a single pop to be heard. This is vinyl at its best, outclassing even the best SACDs - stunning and revelatory for anybody who's not heard what a masterful pressing can sound like.

Speaking of instruments, they are all identified on the back of the jacket and it makes for some challenging quizzes to tell the water glass from the clay pot, to spot the quick appearance of a wood comb or a set of scallops (or more accurately their shells) in the mix. If you're getting the impression that I loved this disc, you are correct. The Blue Moon award just confirms it. Forget about another release of Beethoven's 9
th. The latest, newest and most exciting thing to listen to is music over five hundred years old recorded thirty years ago by a group of frantic Spaniards and released on vinyl again for your absolute enjoyment.