Rising to prominence in the time of the great Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the cheeky frottola was the Italian popular song which preceded the madrigal. Most of the delightful pieces on Capella de la Torre’s latest recording are, in fact, frottole. The only work here by Leonardo himself – apparently composition was just one more thing this archetypal Renaissance Man could turn his hand to – is however not. In fact, it is a “musical riddle” going by the name Amore sola mi fa remirare.

The other riddle is what instruments Capella de la Torre are playing. Soprano Cécile Kempenaers and tenor Harry van Berne are easy to figure out, as are Martina Fiedler (organ), Johannes Vogt (lute) and Peter A. Bauer and Mike Turnbull (percussion). But what of Birgit Bahr’s alto shawm? It’s the forerunner of the modern oboe. Tural Ismayilov’s sackbut? Essentially a trombone. Annette Hils and Regina Hahnke’s curtals? They’re early bassoons, also known as dulcians. Director Katharina Bäuml also plays a shawm, while there’s a recorder in there somewhere too.

There is the lively: the opening anonymous frottola Il marchese o di Salutio; the stately: another anonymous work, O triumphale et diamante; serenely beautiful: Josquin’s Tu solus qui facis mirabilia, and delicately graceful: Sermisy’s Jouissance je vous donneray. That each sounds so unique despite following various formulas is down to Bäuml’s ability to use different instrumental colours according to mood, from the intimate softness of lute and organ with solo voice to the ringing sonorities of brass and woodwinds, with or without percussion.

The playing and singing throughout is equally impressive, more a jazz ensemble than a mixed consort. The overall result is not unlike looking past the Mona Lisa’s smile to the variegated landscape beyond: ancient yet somehow modern for being so unfamiliar.

Composer: Marchetti, Josquin, Franchino et al 
Composition: Songs
Performer: Capella de la Torre/Katharina Bäuml
Catalogue Number: Deutsch Harmonia Mundi 19075860892