The art of improvisation, which we associate with jazz musicians nowadays, first flourished in late-16th-century Italy. Like scat singers who embellish classic melodies with idiosyncratic flair, performers back then added decorative effects to favorite madrigals and the like in a show of florid virtuosity. The most adroit among them knew how to elaborate without disturbing the basic structure or meaning of the original. Examples of their ornamental techniques–called “diminutions”–were compiled in instruction books, some of which, including Fabritio Caroso’s Il ballarino in the Newberry Library’s collection, now serve as a reference for authentic performances. Featured in this Italian Renaissance sampler from the Newberry’s scholarship-minded early-music consort are vocal and instrumental pieces by Caroso and other prominent diminutionists such as Girolamo Dalla Casa and Giovanni Bassano, who played in the first bond at Saint Mark’s in Venice. These improvisations, says viola do gamba player Mary Springfels, are “heavily syncopated and filled with thick layers of notes, yet they sound spontaneous and quite lyrical.” The blend of technical ingenuity and exaggerated emotionality should test the interpretive prowess of Springfels and her colleagues, lutenist Kevin Mason, violinist David Douglass, and countertenor Drew Minter. Friday, 8 PM, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton. Saturday, 8 PM, Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel, Lake Forest College, Sheridan and College, Lake Forest. 943-9090, extension 381.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.