Amours, amours, amours

Lute Duos around 1500
Karl-Ernst Schröder, Crawford Young
Glossa GCD 922513 (© 2002)
Music by Agricola, Ambrogio, Busnois, Dalza, Desprez, van Ghizeghem, Isaac, Lapicida, de Orto, Spinacino & anonymus

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he end of the fifteenth century coincided with the end of a well-established tradition of lute-playing. Lutenists abandoned their quills, and plucked strings with their fingers instead, which made it possible to sustain a polyphonic piece on one lute. Lute tablatures evolved to help players cope with this new way of playing. In 1582 Johannes Tinctoris describes how lutenists played duets together: a tenorista would play the lowest voices of a composition, while his companion would improvise complex, virtuosic divisions, noodling around the highest voice or beyond. Unfortunately, by its very nature, improvised music tends not to get written down, yet there are some early 16th-century sources which nevertheless give us a fair idea of what these lute duets may have sounded like.

Karl-Ernst Schröder and Crawford Young play a total of 31 pieces from 13 different sources. Many of them are arrangements of well-known standards – Fortuna desperata, T’Andernaken, Josquin’s Adieu mes amours, and Ghiselin’s Juli amours. They play six duets arranged by Spinacino from the first two books of printed music for the lute (1507), and four from the Segovia Manuscript (Archivo Capitular de la Catedral), including Roellrin’s wonderful setting of Hayne van Ghizeghem’s De tous biens plaine, where the divisions scurry over the full range of the instrument. The extraordinary rhythmic complexity of Scaramella (track 17) contrasts with the surprising, non-extrovert walking bass of Tandernaken (track 18). In another setting of Tandernaken (track 20), the divisions bustle in the bass, while the other lute plays the two highest voices without decoration.

Their lutes are on the small side – two in A (a well-matched pair – both are by Richard Earle of Basel) and one in E (by Joel van Lennep of Rindge, USA). The high pitch enhances the delicate, ethereal nature of the music. Their playing is unfussy, and expressive without the blight of self-indulgent rubato. The overall sound is well balanced, their ensemble spot on, and their lightness of touch for non-obtrusive rapid-fire divisions is a delight.

The present CD is a re-issue of a recording made in 2001, and is dedicated to Schröder who died in 2003.

Stewart McCoy

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