Italian Lute Virtuosi of the Renaissance

Jakob Lindberg
Music by Marco dall’Aquila, Alberto da Mantova & Francesco da Milano

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he three Italian virtuosi represented here are Francesco da Milano (1497-1543), Marco dall’ Aquila (c.1480-after 1538), and Alberto da Mantova (c.1500-51), who was also known in France as Albert de Rippe. The CD begins with Francesco’s well-known Fantasia “La Compagna”, played by Jakob Lindberg at quite a fast tempo, with crystal clear notes in the treble supported by the distinctive timbre of gut strings strung in octaves in the bass. The sound of the so-called ‘Pistoy’ bass strings made by Dan Larson soon fades away, but this is actually an advantage: modern synthetic bass strings can ring on too long, muddying melodic lines.‘La Compagna’ is typical Francesco: a polyphonic section develops the opening theme of d”, e” flat, d”, followed by a fast little scale rising from g’. After 49 bars the pace intensifies with those same musical ideas explored in a variety of ways, culminating in a scale shooting up to the 12th fret. The same opening three-note motif recurs in Fantasias 66 and 33 (the fantasy to which Fantasia 34 is the companion). Lindberg’s tone quality is exquisite, but I wonder if the microphone was too sensitive or placed a little too close to him. Particularly in the slower pieces one can hear background squeaks produced by his fingers as they move along the strings, which would not be so noticeable in a live performance. This is evident, for example, in Ricercar 51, which he takes at a slower, more reflective speed (lasting 3’19”, compared with Paul O’Dette’s 2’41”). Other pieces by Francesco include Fantasias 3, 15, 22, 33, 55 and 66, and four intabulations of songs by Arcadelt, Festa, Richafort and Sermisy.

Unfortunately some lutenists today ignore Marco dall’ Aquila, erroneously seeing him as Francesco’s poor relation, yet they overlook some fine compositions, ranging from the short, simply stated Ricercar 30 to the more extended Ricercar 32. In his informative liner notes Lindberg describes Marco dall’ Aquila as an innovator, and draws attention to his use of broken chords in Ricercar 30, which is similar to the brisé style of lutenists 100 years later. Marco’s Saltarello ‘La Traditora’ bustles along nicely, with tasteful divisions now in the treble, now in the inner voice, adding momentum and uplift. His intabulation of Josquin’s Plus nulz regrets  is a particularly fine piece of music, with unusual harmonies reminiscent of the 15th century.

The music of Alberto da Mantova is often very difficult to play, and his fantasias are generally quite long. Fantasia 20 is the longest track of the CD, lasting 6’51”. It consists of strict polyphony which occasionally produces some surprising dissonance. Lindberg’s unhurried performance is masterful, as he gently plays off the different voices against each other with carefully shaped phrases. Alberto’s five variations on La Romenesca ground have rather prosaic divisions, and the last is punctuated with predictable little dabs of fast cadential figures. His virtuosity is more evident in his intabulation of Festa’s O passi sparsi, the first of two settings in volume 3 of the CNRS collected works: crotchet and quaver divisions in the treble and bass, extravagant semiquaver flourishes ending with super-quick demisemiquavers, brief excursions into triple time, and false relations (f natural/f sharp, e flat and e natural) adding spice to the harmony.

Stewart McCoy

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