Review: Indy Early Music's '¡Sacabuche!' 

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4 stars

Indiana History Center; Festival Music Society; July 24.

"Sacabuche" is Spanish for "sackbut," which is the Renaissance version of the trombone, a featured instrument in this 17-performer group, their program entitled, Matteo Ricci: His Map and Music. A famous Italian cartographer, Ricci journeyed to China and in 1602 completed a map of the world, including the Americas, while residing in Beijing.

Sacabuche celebrated the event in music and narrative, combining mostly 16th-century European Renaissance music with two traditional Chinese selections while bookending the program with contemporary pieces by Huang Ruo (b. 1976). A screen hung above the stage showed a portrait of Ricci, then various portions of his map before revealing all six pieces of it together (frankly it was hard to read).

Such famous Renaissance name composers as Gabrieli and Palestrina appeared often throughout and provided their much vaunted harmonic beauty in their vocal polyphony, well captured by the group's four singers. Other western instruments included Baroque trombones and various strings. The most exotic offerings were by Yang Yi, playing the guzheng, a cylindrical, plucked instrument with a seemingly infinite variety of pitches while sounding mostly like a western harp.

Yi was joined by Tsujui Carrie Chin playing the sheng, a mouth-blown free reed instrument with vertical pipes, in "The Jade Pendants of the Immortals." Yi later soloed with more delightful exoticism in "Lofty Mountains and Rolling Waters." Co-director Ann Waitner provided the dominant English narration while Maniling Luo interpolated occasional Chinese.

The IHC'sBasile Theater was alternately bathed in light and darkness throughout the program. While all the music could have stood on its own, a little "theater" made this concert a presentation.

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