Il più bel fiore

Cover of digital download of lute music played by Luca Tarantino

Archlute music from the Doni manuscript
Luca Tarantino
64:38
CGS 003

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In his extensive liner notes Dinko Fabris describes the Doni manuscript as “one of the most important musical sources of the early seventeenth century.” He attributes most of the pieces (29) to Andrea Falconieri, 11 to Giuseppe Baglioni,  two to Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, one to Arcangelo Lori, and an incomplete piece to Pietro Paulo Melii. The pieces are typical of that time: gagliarde, correnti, toccate, fantasie and a few others.
 
(It took me quite a while to locate the music in my SPES facsimile because no page references are supplied with the CD, which is why I supply them here: Track 1: pp 24-5; 2: 78-9; 3: 10-1; 4: 63; 5: 84; 6: 74; 7: 76-7; 8: 110-1; 9: 94-6; 10:.99; 11: 22-3; 12: 27, 28-9, 30-1; 13: 70-2; 14: 6-7; 15: 90-2; 16: 103: 17: 14-5; 18: 54-5; 19: 100-1; 20: 44-5; 21: 19: 22: 20: 23: 104-5; 24: 66-7; 25: 50; 26: 109-110; 27: 4-5: 28: 88-9.)
 
Tarantino’s first track is Gagliarda by Andrea Falconieri (1585-1656). As would be expected, there are three minims per bar, but the composition seems more like a toccata, with big chords at the start, then running passages, and the sequential development of musical ideas, some of which can be predictable and tedious. Tarantino interprets the piece with sensitivity, building up to a flurry of fast cadential notes at the end. Closer in character to a gagliarda is Track 8, Gagliarda del Falconieri, which is enhanced by fast slurred notes, always descending; Tarantino’s lively interpretation is most pleasing. In Track 10, Corrente francese, there are places where I think he is too free with his rhythm, and we lose the feel of a corrente. Track 11 is untitled in the manuscript, but looks like another corrente. Tarantino’s speed seems to drag in the first two sections, but is most effective in the third section, which has interesting echo effects: each bar is played twice, first without, and then with, left-hand slurs. Tarantino plays the slurred notes quietly, producing a charming series of echoes, which explains why he calls the piece “Eco”. Track 20, Gagliarda, has some interesting changes of rhythm early on, but the last page consists of rather unimaginative sequences of descending quavers. Just towards the end, there is an unexpected b natural in the manuscript which Tarantino plays, but since it leads us to the final tonic chord of F major, there is perhaps a good case for changing it to b flat.
 
Two of the five toccate have the title Toccata del Tedesco, and it is reasonable to assume that this particular German is Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c. 1580-1651). The first Toccata, Track 9, has much variety, with a stop-go two-part texture, now with fast runs, now with two voices exchanging ideas, now parallel tenths, and a great flourish with the final chord. The second, Track 15, is another fine piece, with interesting changes of mood. One expects some freedom of expression here, but there are places where I think Tarantino overdoes playing out of time. Kapsberger’s music is full of surprises, not least the first chord in the fourth bar of p. 92: after a chord of D dominant 7th one expects a chord of G, but instead we get an augmented chord with e flat.
 
Track 12, Passamezzi del Falconieri, consists of three variations on the passamezzo moderno. Tarantino’s rhythm, particularly for the first passamezzo which consists entirely of crotchets, is played unevenly giving a feeling of rushing and unease, and I would have preferred a slower, more restful interpretation. Not everything needs to be exciting. The third passamezzo is an attractive dialogue involving very high notes going up to f” at the tenth fret, and very low notes going down to C on the tenth course. More extreme contrasts appear in Track 25, Toccata del S. Arcangelo (p. 50), an extraordinary piece running up to top g” at the 12th fret and down to low A on the 13th course, and ending with a descending 3-octave scale. Tarantino plays the piece beautifully.
 
Track 13, Capriccio detto il gran Monarcha (pp. 70-2) by Pietro Paulo Melii (1579-?) differs from the version in Melii’s Quinto Libro (Venice, 1620), in having its own opening five bars, and duplicating only bar 55 to the end of the printed source. In the antepenultimate bar, Tarantino wisely plays semiquavers as in the printed source, but otherwise he plays the piece as it is in the manuscript.
 
There is much to enjoy and admire in Tarantino’s playing, but unfortunately he has been let down by the recording engineers. I suspect the microphone was placed too close to the archlute, which results in a rather echoey sound with a sharp edge to it, similar to the sound you hear when your ear is right up against the instrument. It exaggerates the squeaks you get when moving the left-hand fingers along the strings, e.g. for the change of position after bar 6 of Track 27, Gagliarda detta La Lunara [recte Leonara]. A percussive sound is heard as the right-hand fingers strike the strings, particularly noticeable in Track 14, Volta, and Track 20, Gagliarda, where the clatter of finger noise is very much in evidence. If only the microphone had been placed further away. One of the delights of the archlute is the rich sound of the long bass strings, but in the present recording the low notes are often too quiet, drowned out by the louder treble notes. Again, I suspect the recording engineer is to blame, turning up the treble volume too much.
 
Stewart McCoy