Il Barbarino: Musica per liuto e viola da mano nel cinquecento Napoletano

Paul Kieffer lute/viola da mano
Arcana AD105

Paul Kieffer presents an interesting anthology of Neapolitan music, 24 pieces in all, of which 15 have not been recorded before. Eleven pieces are from the Barbarino manuscript (hence the title of the CD), Kraków, Biblioteka Jagiellońska, Mus. ms. 40032, a manuscript compiled approximately from 1580 to 1611 by a castrated lutenist called Barbarino: a variety of anonymous pieces – Tenore di Napoli, Pavana de España, Volta, Folias en primer tono, Toccata, and Matachin con sus diferencias – and music by named composers – Fantasia by Luis Maymón (d. before 1601), Fuga and Canto llano y contrapunto by Francesco Cardone (d. before 1601), Fantasia by Fabrizio Dentice (c.1530-1581), and an intabulation by Giulio Severino (d. 1583) of Palestrina’s “Da poi che vidi vostra falsa fede”. I deduce from the Palestrina intabulation that Kieffer’s lute (an 8-course in F by Grant Tomlinson) is fretted in some kind of meantone temperament – maybe sixth-comma – because the chord of C major (a2 + a3 + b4 + c5) has a slight sourness arising from that temperament, a price well worth paying for the purity of intonation obtained with other chords. The Tenore di Napoli sounds similar in style to Giovanni Pacoloni (divisions over a slow-moving ground), but with a more interesting chord sequence perhaps based on an old basse danse tenor. This and the other dance pieces on the CD, contrast with the more cerebral Fantasias of Dentice, thoughtfully interpreted by Kieffer in an unhurried performance, with clear voice-leading, savoured dissonance, and nicely shaped phrases. There are four altogether, including three from the Sienna lute book; one of these (track 4) starts with a slow-moving theme which is developed in some quite surprising ways before breaking into a more homophonic passage, and finishing with faster-moving intricate polyphonic lines. Kieffer plays three Ricercars by Francesco da Milano (1497-1543), not that Francesco is thought to have visited Naples, but because some of his music was published there in 1536 in Intavolatura de Viola o vero Lavto … Libro Primo  [and Libro Secondo] della Fortuna. Tracks 13, 14 and 20 are Ness nos 11, 10 and 8 respectively. Kieffer’s restrained speeds allow the music to breathe, and we can enjoy all the tied notes in Ness No 8. Interestingly Kieffer’s 2’33 is only four seconds slower than Paul O’Dette’s 2’29 – both players clearly like to take their time with this Ricercar. The “viola” given in the title of the book as an alternative to the lute, is the viola da mano, a guitar (more or less)-shaped instrument with the same tuning as the lute. Kieffer plays the three Francesco ricercars on a 6-course viola da mano in G built by Peter Biffin. It has a bright, sweet sound, although notes on the sixth course sound a little plunky, which is inevitable with gut strings. One can tell from the final chord of Ricercar 8, that the lowest four courses are tuned in octaves: the F major chord d2+d3+e4+f5 would sound f’+c’+a+f with unison stringing, but one can clearly hear the note a’ sounding as the highest note of the chord, produced by the upper octave of the fourth course. Also included in the CD are two very fine fantasias by Perino Fiorentino (1523-1552) taken from Intabolatura de Lauto  (Rome, 1566), a reprint of an earlier edition published in 1547 in Venice. Fiorentino is described on the title page as a disciple of Francesco, and indeed these fantasias sound like good Francesco, aided and abetted by the delicate sound of the viola da mano and Kieffer’s sensitive and tasteful performance.

Stewart McCoy