The practice of diminution might seem straightforward at first. It’s the idea that you start with a solid tune (say, the soprano part of that madrigal all the cool young 17th-century musicians have been humming) and then divide into smaller and smaller bits, getting faster and more virtuosic. Out of this straightforward idea comes so many wonderful and inventive pieces and variations, and so this recording presents a collection of pieces modified and twisted through diminution.

Diminutions were semi-improvised and here L’Estro d’Orfeo have taken the unusual and refreshing step of writing their own in the style, using 17th-century themes. There are contributions from violinist-director Leonor de Lera, bass violist Rodney Prada, and harpsichordist Javier Núñez, and I must say that they’re rather successful – these reminded me of some of the great Jordi Savall’s daring live improvisations. Good thing, too, since there’s quite a lot of these, taking up two-fifths of the CD.

The rest of the disc is taken up by diminute-ed pieces by 17th-century composers. Here, L’Estro d’Orfeo split the repertoire into pieces based on motets, and pieces based on popular melodies or dance forms (like the ubiquitous La folia). These are unfailingly played beautifully, with a lovely sense of creativity and liveliness. For good measure, there’s even a lovely solo set of diminutions by the lute composer Kapsberger.

Potentially not one for purists, given the number of “new” pieces by the performers here, but a release that demonstrates L’Estro d’Orfeo’s taste for doing things differently. Recommended.

Title: L’Arte di Diminuire
Music by:
Rognoni, Marini and Kaspberger
Performers: L’Estro d’Orfeo/Leonor de Lera
Label: Challenge Classics CC72843