‘These works are meant to sound as impulsive as improvisations, while also allowing their performers free rein in expression, ornamentation, and counterpoint—an opportunity that Stoffer and McCartney seize with fervor.
They revel in the violin’s power to simulate the human voice, a power that Stoffer raises to ecstatic heights. In slow movements, she leans lightly on long-held notes to make them moan and sigh or ululate with vibrato; on low, grainy notes, her violin growls; and she dashes and skitters through compressed flurries of virtuosic figures. Meanwhile, McCartney virtually shreds his accompaniments with fervent plucking and percussive strumming.
The album’s highlights include the wide-ranging forms, embracing both church and chamber music, of G. A. Pandolfi Mealli’s sonata “La Cesta,” from 1660, on which Stoffer and McCartney span extremes of ethereal calm and profane excitement.’
– The New Yorker, Richard Brody
‘This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus[.] … [The] sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing.
Also included are two groups of theorbo pieces by Kapsberger, played with exquisite delicacy by Alex McCartney. Notable amongst these harmonically innovative pieces are the Gagliarda from the 1620 Terzo quarto d’intavolatura di chitarrone, and the impressive Passacaglia from Kapsberger’s 1640 Libro quarto.
Although it was recorded in Glasgow Cathedral, the acoustic sounds intimate and suits the music well.’
– Early Music Reviews +, Andrew Benson-Wilson
‘All the works were written as vehicles for those instrumentalists’ own prodigious virtuosity. As treated here by Stoffer and McCartney, they are stunning, highly inventive and the finest examples today of technically demanding works played with ease. Both play as though they have this music in their veins, so assured and full of flair are these performances.’
‘[T]his ancient music comes alive in fresh performances.’
‘Stoffer and McCartney combine touching simplicity with full-on virtuosity, McCartney strumming syncopated rhythms like a guitarist at the works core climax.
Stoffer shows herself to be an accomplished performer and interpreter, relishing the virtuosic demands, and McCartney moves seamlessly between an accompanying role and more foreground duetting as the music requires. An impressive debut disc for the ensemble, with surely more to follow.’