Les quarte saisons du luth
Simone Vallerotonda
Arcana A496

Seventeenth-century French lute music has a distinct sound quality unlike any other. It is musique recherchée, appealing then as now to a relatively small number of enthusiasts. It involves snippets of sound which create a variety of moods and effects. There are elements of polyphony, but not always a clear number of voices. There are glimpses of melodies, but not suitable for singing in the bath. The overall texture varies, but is generally quite thin, with musical ideas suggested rather than hammered out. It is enhanced with a plethora of ornaments. It is clearly expressive, but quite what it expresses is elusive.

In this charming, well-played anthology of French lute music Simone Vallerotonda groups pieces according to the four seasons, the four elements, and the four humours. First is Winter – Earth – Black Bile – Spleen – and the key of C minor. The mood of this group is set by an unmeasured Prélude by Charles Mouton (1626-1699), no. 22 in the CNRS edition. One might expect some rhythmic freedom in this sort of piece, but I think Vallerotonda overdoes it. For example, he makes no clear distinction between crotchets and quavers, as if he makes the rhythm up as he goes along. Better to listen without looking at the score. Mouton’s final cadence is extraordinary and unsettling: the dominant – a broken chord of G major with a seventh – takes us predictably to C minor defined by an e’ flat. Two quavers later there is an e’ natural switching the tonality to a cheerful C major, but any optimism suggested by the new key is soon erased, the bar ending back with e’ flat and a mournful chord of C minor.

There follows Mouton’s La belle Espagnole (CNRS no. 27), a chaconne with distinctly unequal quavers. Perfect cadences in C minor occur every four bars in the first half of the piece, and then, with harmonic progressions becoming more complex, they occur every eight bars. There is much variety, including a scale in the bass rising from the lowest note of Mouton’s 11-course lute, and a rising chromatic scale in the bass from e flat to c’. In fact chromaticism is an ever-present feature of the piece.

More sober is Mouton’s La belle Florentine, a sarabande which ambles along at a slower speed, again with unequal quavers, and a few strums. The inherent melancholy of the piece is partly derived from its low tessitura: in the long first section the first course is not used at all, and but for one open string note in bar 6 and four more at the end of the section, the second course is not used either. Thereafter a few higher notes begin to appear culminating with an anguished c” (7th fret on the 1st course) towards the end. Vallerotonda returns to the first section for a petite reprise of gloom.

Amongst the pieces in the Winter set are Tombeau Mazarin by Robert de Visée (1650-1725), played with some slides up to high notes, and down to lower ones, and a repetitive chaconne, La Comete, by Jacques Gallot (1625-95). This last piece has unexpected harmonic turns and is very soothing on the ears, but I do not understand why it should be included in the Winter set. Gallot’s Chaconne is in C major, and does not evoke Black Bile and Spleen as the C minor pieces allegedly do. However, from the programming point of view it does round off the set nicely.

One might have expected Spring to follow Winter, but here it is Summer which comes next – Choleric – Fire – Yellow Bile – Liver – and music in G minor by different composers. Particularly noteworthy is Air pour les esclaves africains by Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). It is a fine piece, reminiscent of Lully, and Vallerotonda’s transcription sounds well on the lute. The fourth piece of the set is a courante in G major by Robert de Visée, so no Yellow Bile and Liver here. By the way, it would have been helpful to include more information in the liner notes about the music. Which courante is it, and from which source?

The third season of the CD is Autumn – Phlegmatic – Water – Phlegm – Head – and music in D minor. One of the items is another transcription of music by Rameau, this time from a harpsichord solo, Les Tendres Plaintes, which comes from Rameau’s Pieces de Clavessin (Paris, n.d. [1724]) p. 15. The piece consists of two voices for the most part, mainly with continuous quavers in the bass, and slower note values in the treble. To fit on the lute, the music has to be transposed down an octave, but otherwise little needs changing for a playable transcription. Most of the music on the CD was written for the 11-course lute, but in his transcription, Vallerotonda takes advantage of the low A available on his 13-course instrument. The last Autumn track is Canaries ou Gigue by Valentin Strobel (1610-69), a surprising choice since Strobel was German, not French.

The last season is Spring – Sanguine – Air – Blood – Heart – and A major/ minor. The set begins with an upbeat La Muzette by Robert de Visée, the first half of which is in A major, and the second half in A minor. In contrast, it is followed by De Visée’s beautiful Tombeau du Vieux Gallot in A minor, where the bass is forever heading downward, and the final chord is shockingly dissonant. There follow two pieces by Jacques Gallot – La Cicogne and Les Castagnettes – the latter with many off-beats strums. The set ends with Charles Mouton’s My mistress is pretty [Bransle de Mantoue], no. 114 in the CNRS edition, played with many ornaments added to the repeats of sections and a flurry of notes enlivening the repeat of bars 7. The CD ends with an intabulation of Les Barricades Mystérieuses by François Couperin (1668-1733). The piece is in B flat major, which does not fit any of the four seasons, but its justification for being included is given as “Eucrasia or balance of the four temperaments”.

Simone Vallerotonda’s CD includes some delightful music which he plays well, but trying to link these pieces to the seasons, elements, and humours, is illogical, fanciful nonsense.

Stewart McCoy


Dowland: Lessons

Jonas Nordberg lute
BIS-2627 | SACD

From the first few notes of this CD it is clear that Jonas Nordberg sets out to put his own gloss on well-known music by John Dowland (1563-1626). He begins with Dowland’s Prelude, playing at quite a slow speed, taking liberties with the rhythm, adding a few more ornaments than were in the unique source (Margaret Board’s lute book), and exaggerating the briskness of repeated high notes towards the end. There follows A Fancy (Poulton 73) which opens with a theme similar to “All in a Garden Green”, and develops many contrasting musical ideas – little four-note rising scales overlapping each other, the introduction of a new theme which shares the first four notes of the opening theme, more rising scales but with a quaver followed by six semiquavers, a lengthy tremolo passage, and rounding off with Dowland’s characteristic alternation of tonic and dominant chords before the final grand 6-note chord. Nordberg wisely does not add a chord at the end of bar 19 as suggested by Diana Poulton, since this would interfere with the theme reiterated in the bass.

For The Frog Galliard Nordberg creates a gentle mood, perhaps thinking of the words “Now oh now I needs must part”. However, those words, supposedly for the Duc d’Alençon leaving Queen Elizabeth after a failed courtship, were probably loaded with sarcasm, and a happier mood might have been more appropriate. Who is to say? One thing I do like about Nordberg’s performance of this piece is his ornaments of which there are many. Some match Poulton’s edition, no. 23a, others are his own, but they are all most convincing. It is Nordberg’s use of ornaments and imaginative little touches of his own, which bring Dowland’s music to life.

A good example of Nordberg’s little touches comes at the end of Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe. There is a rising scale in parallel tenths, where each note of the treble is followed by a note a third higher before moving on to the next tenth; this means that the treble has a succession of rising thirds in quavers. On the repeat Nordberg introduces a fast passing note between each of these thirds – such a simple idea, but a pleasant surprise which put a smile across my face.

The title of the CD is Lessons, meaning pieces to be learned. Nordberg gives a good account of five pieces from Robert Dowland’s Varietie of Lute-lessons (1610): Galliards for Queen Elizabeth, the King of Denmark, and the Earl of Derby, John Smith’s Almain, and Fantasie (Poulton 1a).

An important aspect of English music at this time, whether for lute, virginals or other instruments, was the writing of variations on simple folk melodies. Dowland’s variations on “Loth to depart” are a fine example of this, with a wealth of musical ideas displaying the expressive capabilities of the lute. In contrast is Dowland’s simple setting of Orlando Sleepeth, which is a short piece with no ornaments or decorated repeats. Nordberg plays it through with some decoration of his own, and then again with more embellishment.

For Solus cum Sola Diana Poulton used the setting in the Ewing lute book, but Nordberg instead turns to the setting in Cambridge University Library, Dd.2.11. The last strain appears only once in the manuscript, so Nordberg repeats it with his own tasteful additions. In another pavan, Semper Dowland Semper Dolens, Nordberg creates a suitable melancholic mood, but I am puzzled by the penultimate chord of the second strain. The Ewing lute book has d’ and b, and the Weld lute book has f’ and d’. Either is fine, but Nordberg plays f’ and b creating a diminished fifth, which cannot be right.

Nordberg plays a nine-course lute strung in gut, with a string-length of 65 cm tuned to g’ at A=392. It was built by Lars Jönssen. In modern times it has been common to tune lutes to g’ at modern pitch (A=440), which requires a smallish lute with a string-length of 60 cm, and which can sound a bit tinkly. Nordberg’s larger lute is effectively tuned a tone lower, giving a richer, warmer sound, which is ideal for Dowland’s lute solos.

The number seven and multiples of seven seem to have been important for Dowland. There are 21 songs in three of his four printed collections of songs (The Second Booke has 22), 21 instrumental pieces in Lachrimae [1604] of which the first seven pavans are seven different Lachrimaes, and 42 lute solos in Varietie of which there are seven of each of the six genres represented. His setting of “Loth to depart” consists of seven variations. Significantly Robert  Nordberg’s CD has 21 tracks.

Stewart McCoy


Nürnberger Lautenschläger

 Virtuoso Lute Music from Nuremberg
Magnus Andersson lute
Klanglogo KL2537

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This interesting CD is an anthology of renaissance lute music from 16th-century Germany. It begins with music by Adolf Blindhamer (c.1450-c.1531), who was lutenist to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519). It is possible that Blindhamer is one of the lutenists depicted in the well-known set of woodcuts known as “The Triumphs of Maximilian”. Impressive is Magnus Andersson’s performance of Blindhamer’s jolly Nach-Dancz to Ach Betler, which bounces along with a steady foot-tapping beat, and is not held back by the exceedingly fast flurries of notes which appear from time to time.

There is much interesting information about the composers, the sources of their music, and their connection with Nuremberg, to be found in John Robinson’s liner notes. Blindhamer was awarded citizenship of Nuremberg. One of his pupils may have been Hans Gerle (c.1500-1554), whose books of lute music were published in Nuremberg. Andersson plays four pieces from them, including a particularly attractive setting of T’Andernaken, which he sustains well with effective contrasts of tone.

Nuremberg was the home of Hans Newsidler (c.1508/9-63), who busied himself producing six books of lute music and at least 18 children. Andersson plays three of Newsidler’s intabulations: Tartara by Heinrich Isaac similar in style to T’andernaken, a sober Sancta Trinitas by Antoine de Févin, and a bright Cum sancto spiritu by Josquin des Prez. All three pieces are from Newsidler’s Der Ander Theil des Lautenbuchs (1536), which contains harder, more extensive pieces than those in his first book which was aimed at beginners. Ornate figuration is a feature of the intabulations in Der Ander Theil, but Andersson does not let the apparently mindless divisions obscure the musical integrity of the original.

There follows a Passamezzo and Saltarello pair by one of Hans Newsidler’s lute-playing sons, Conrad Newsidler (1541-1603). The divisions, which have interesting chromatic inflections, float over a static bass, which eventually moves to create some pleasing harmonic clashes. The Passamezzo and Saltarello should be contrasting movements, so I would have preferred to hear the Saltarello played a little faster. In contrast are two short sacred pieces set by Conrad Newsidler, which plod along as do so many Lutheran hymns.

Conrad’s older brother, Melchior Newsidler (1531-c.1595), was an exceptionally skilled lutenist. His Recercar Primo is a particularly fine piece of counterpoint, slow-moving, with unexpected changes of direction, rather like Bakfark on a good day. The CD comes to a peaceful end with Melchior Newsidler’s intabulation of Bewahr mich Herr, over seven minutes long.

The organist and composer Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) was born in Nuremberg. Andersson plays two canzonas by Hassler which appear in a lute book owned by one Michael Eysertts (c.1580-after 1600), who lived in Nuremberg. It is not clear who made the intabulations, so Eysertts’ contribution may have been no more than owning a book.

Andersson uses three lutes built by Lars Jönsson, which are strung in gut with strings from Aquila and Kürschner. There is a tendency for treble notes to be louder and brighter than those lower down, which is probably more to do with a sound engineer’s switch than the luthier or string-makers. Unfortunately, there are a fair few squeaks and other extraneous noises coming from the strings. That, together with an echoey acoustic makes me wonder if the microphone was placed a bit too close to the lute for the recording.

Stewart McCoy


In the Garden of Polyphony

French Renaissance Music for Lute and Guitar
Israel Golani (Renaissance lute and Renaissance guitar)
Solaire Records SOL 1010

Israel Golani’s CD is an anthology of French music from the 16th century for lute and for guitar. His gut-strung 6-course lute built by Martin Shepherd has a lovely sound quality, particularly in the treble; as was customary for 6-course lutes it has a high octave string on the fourth course. Golani also plays a similar lute built by Alfonso Marin, which sounds a semitone lower, and has no high octave string on the fourth course – fewer treble notes, but clearer for polyphony. The guitar pieces are played on a 4-course renaissance guitar also built by Alfonso Marin.

Golani begins with Albert de Rippe’s intabulation of Pierre Sandrin’s “Pleurez mes yeux”. De Rippe tracks Sandrin’s chanson closely, but with the addition of flowing divisions, mainly quavers. Golani’s playing is clear with nicely shaped melodic lines. I do like the way he plays cadential semiquavers in this piece – neat, in time, and without interrupting the flow. Some of De Rippe’s accidentals are surprising. The piece is essentially in F major, but De Rippe adds sharps to the f’s in the second bar; they would not have been sung in Sandrin’s original, but they are effective on the lute. Surprising harmonies also appear in De Rippe’s lengthy Fantasie quatriesme. His intabulation of “Un jour le temps” is given an unhurried, sensitive interpretation.

Golani includes pieces from the first two books of lute tablature to be printed in France: Pierre Attaingnant’s Tres breve et familiere introduction (Paris, 1529) and Dixhuit basses dances (Paris, 1530). Track 7 is an intabulation of the tender chanson for three-voices, “Fortune laisse moy”. It is a lovely piece of music played well, so it is a pity there is a wrong note – 18 notes from the end – where Golani plays f’ instead of b’ flat. The note is b’ flat in Attaingnant’s original and in Daniel Heartz’ edition, so I guess Golani made his own copy, and accidentally wrote tablature d on the wrong line. The Branle gay “C’est mon amy” whizzes along at a gay speed. Basse dance “Beure frais” lacks its Tourdion, which would have added a refreshing change from C minor to C major. Golani opts for a nice slow tempo for a gentle “Dolent départ”, but succumbs to adding erratic touches of rubato. Playing out of time does not necessarily make a piece more expressive. As with the music of Albert De Rippe, there are some surprising accidentals, including a false relation involving e’ natural and e flat. It might have lost a mark in an ‘O’ Level exam, but such clashes add a certain expressive piquancy, especially when played on a lute. For “Amy souffrez” Golani turns to a manuscript source, Öffentliche Bibliothek der Universität Basel Musiksammlung, Ms. F IX 56, which has more divisions and unexpected accidentals than Attaingnant’s more familiar printed source.

One of the pieces published in Louvain by Pierre Phalèse is Allemande (track 4), which also appears in various guises in non-French sources, including the Willoughby MS, where it has the title “Grenes Alman”. The Willoughby divisions are twice the speed of Phalèse’s fast notes, which makes me wonder if Golani’s interpretation is a bit on the fast side. At any event I would have preferred the rallentando to occur after (not during) the divisions over the dominant of the final cadence.

The 4-course guitar was popular in 16th-century France. Nine different collections were printed in the 1550s, and another printed in 1570 survives. Golani plays six pieces from these guitar books together with his own intabulation of the basse dance “Auprès de vous” from Attaingnant’s Second Livre (1547). The texture is inevitably thin, and all four voices cannot be sustained. However, it is a nice arrangement, and Golani captures the essence of the piece in a tasteful way.

There is much variety in Golani’s collection, which includes lute music by Adrian Le Roy, Guillaume Morlaye, Jean-Paul Paladin, and Julien Bellin. It ranges from Morlaye’s catchy little Gaillarde with a plethora of bluesy flattened sevenths, to Bellin’s strict three-part counterpoint in his Trio. Golandi plays the Trio twice, the second time with his own divisions added. I like what he does – sometimes the extra notes simply fill gaps between notes a third apart, but other times he is more adventurous, for example with some nice jazzy syncopation introduced towards the end. The CD ends where it began, with an intabulation of Sandrin’s “Pleurez mes yeux”, this time in a setting by Guillaume Morlaye for 4-course guitar. Never mind that harmless wrong note in Track 7 mentioned earlier. Golani’s performance is really excellent, and makes for a most enjoyable CD.

Stewart McCoy


Fantasia Bellissima

The Lviv lute tablature
Bernhard Hofstötter lute
TYXart TXA18115

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The city of Lviv, one of the main cultural centres in Ukraine, has had many names over the years, including the Polish Lwów, German Lemberg, and Russian Львов (Lvov). The University Library has in its possession a manuscript (UKR-LVu 1400/I) which contains music notated in French and Italian lute tablature. This manuscript, referred to by Bernhard Hofstötter as “The Lviv Lute Tablature”, is the source of the music for the present CD. Confusingly, in the CD liner notes Kateryna Schöning refers to the book as the “Cracow Lute Tablature”. An early owner of the book, Schwartz-An[drzej] Czarny, wrote in the manuscript that he was from Crakow, and gave the date 1555. The watermarks show that the paper was made not far from Crakow. A description of the lute music with incipts may be seen on line at  – Piotr Poz´niak (Cracow), ”The Kraków Lute Tablature: A Source Analysis”, Musica Iagellonica, (2004) ISSN 1233–9679. This manuscript is not the same as “The Cracow Lute-Book”, vol. 2 of Valentin Bakfark Opera Omnia, ed. Homolya István and Dániel Benkö, (Budapest: Editio Musica Budapest, 1979), which is a modern edition of a printed source: Valentin Bakfark, Tomus Primus (Crakow, 1565).

Bernhard Hofstötter claims that his recordings of pieces from the Lviv lute book are “World Premiere Recordings”. You could argue that Oleg Timofeyev beat him to it back in May 2011 with his recording, The Lviv Lute (Sono Luminus DSL-92134) recorded on 21st May 2011, with 19 pieces from the manuscript. However, Timofeyev’s recording is with his group Sarmatica, and the music has been arranged to be sung and played by various instruments. Hofstötter plays the music, albeit with some artistic licence, as it is in the manuscript, intabulated for solo lute, so I think his claim could be justified. He plays a 7-course lute after Vendelio Venere by Renatus Lechner, which is very bright in the treble (either that or the recording engineer makes it bright).

The first and last track, “Tarzeto”, consists largely of variations over the ground IV, V, I, I. To create extra excitement Hofstötter starts strumming that chord sequence about half-way through, and speeds up towards the end. To some listeners, strumming may seem out of place for the lute, yet there are occasional examples in extant lute sources, e.g. Hans Newsidler’s “Gassen hawer” (1536). It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I would prefer not having Hofstötter’s extra excitement. I think the piece is fine as it is, and does not need turning into something resembling Gaspar Sanz’s well-known Canarios for baroque guitar. A facsimile of the music (ff. 31r-31v) may be seen on line in Piotr Poz´niak’s article cited above. There is no strumming notated in the manuscript. Hofstötter’s oft-repeated IV, V, I, I sequence actually comes only twice at the end of the piece in the manuscript, not numerous times at the beginning as he plays it. As notated, it’s a nice piece, rather like a calata by Dalza on a good day.

There are three fantasias by John Dowland in the Lviv manuscript. Track 2 is an upbeat interpretation of Fantasia no. 6 (Poulton & Lam). Hofstötter understandably looks for ways of making the music expressive – adding occasional ornaments (good), rolling chords, e.g. the second chord of bar 7 (effective in enhancing the following 7-6), easing off in bar 21 (nice, because it helps a change of mood), and bringing the music to an overdramatic stop in bar 23 (not nice, because it loses momentum). One thing I really do not like is the exaggerated séparé of four two-note chords in bars 3-4. It interrupts the flow (one of each séparé pair must by definition be out of time), and it obscures the two-part polyphony.

Hofstötter plays 19 pieces altogether. (There are twenty tracks, but Tarzeto appears twice.) Some are very short. Passo e mezo (track 11) lasts a mere 24 seconds, although it makes musical sense when followed in the next track by a matching Saltarello (52 seconds of which the last 12 seconds are silence before the next track starts). Scattered among the jolly dance pieces are some song intabulations – Claudin de Sermisy’s “Le content est riche”, Pierre Sandrin’s “Doulce memoire”, Jacquet de Berchem’s “O s’io potessi donna”, and Clément Jannequin’s “Or vien ça, vien”. Valentin Bakfark’s “Non dite mai” with its title looks like a song intabulation, but it is a galliard. A modern transcription may be found in vol. 3, pp. 51-2 of the Bakfark edition mentioned earlier.

There is much variety. Strumming returns in a setting of La rocha el fuso, but it is used sparingly – just for the fast repeated chords of one section. It is very effective, and I think appropriate here. Particularly pleasing is Hofstötter’s performance of Giovanni Pacoloni’s well-named Fantasia bellissima, which is used for the title of the CD. There is a slowly-paced rendition of Dalza’s Pavana alla Ferrarese – the tempo has to be slow if only to be able to fit in all the fast notes at cadences and elsewhere. From a later age comes Dowland’s Forlorn Hope Fancy (Poulton and Lam, no. 2) with its lugubrious descending chromatic motif. All in all, the Lviv lute tablature is an interesting source, not widely known even in the lute world. Hofstötter has done well to bring it to our attention with a lively and pleasing performance.

Stewart McCoy


S. L. Weiss: Pièces de Luth

Diego Salamanca lute
Seulétoile SE 01

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Diego Salamanca’s charming CD opens with the well-known Ouverture in B flat (SC4) of Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750). This piece survives in the two major sources of Weiss’s music: the London manuscript, Lbl Add. MS 30387, and the Dresden manuscript, Sächsische Landesbibliothek, MS Mus. 2841-V-1. The British Library has made their manuscript freely available online, and all the music Salamanca takes from it is transcribed into staff notation by Ruggero Chiesa in his Weiss anthology, Intavolatura di Liuto published back in 1968.
The Ouverture begins with a bright, optimistic chord of B flat major, and progresses with slow-moving chords interspersed with little bursts of single-line melody notes, ending with a cadence in the dominant (F major). There follows a brisk Allegro, which has the same rhythmic idea throughout – each new voice enters with three repeated up-beat quavers. Presumably to draw attention to a new entry of the theme, Salamanca often (mercifully not always) hesitates a moment before those repeated notes, yet there is no need for him to do so. The music is composed in a way which allows each new entry to be clearly heard, and those little hesitations interrupt the flow, albeit only a little. The piece ends with a short Largo, which has just six chords – each played three times and followed by a single-note semiquaver – followed by a descending passage of semiquavers leading to the hemiola of the final cadence.
From the Dresden manuscript Salamanca plays Weiss’s Sonata in G minor (SC51). This sonata lacks a prelude and a sarabande, so Salamanca adds Prelude (SC25) which precedes the Sonata in the manuscript. The Prelude consists of broken chords over a slow-moving bass, which Salamanca plays with suitable gravitas. There is a surprising moment where the music pauses in the middle for a full four seconds before continuing. He also includes the lovely Sarabande (SC49) in B flat (the relative major of G minor), which has some unexpected moments including touches of chromaticism. He picks a lively tempo for the Courante, Bourrée, and Polonaise. I like the clarity of his playing, and the way he gives phrases direction. The long, slow Allemande is especially delightful. The Sonata ends with an impressive, fast, gigue-like Presto.
There follows Fantaisie in C minor (SC 9) taken from the London Weiss manuscript. The first section has no bar-lines in the original, and consists entirely of quavers over a slow-moving bass. There is a pleasing amount of give and take from Salamanca as it builds up intensity, arriving at a lengthy dominant – 60 quavers in all over a pedal bass – and cadencing into the second section. This section does have bar-lines, has a stricter tempo, and is more fugal in character. There is a note in the manuscript at the end of the piece: ”Weis 1719 a Prague”.
The CD ends with Weiss’s Sonata in G major (SC22) from the London manuscript. The opening Prelude begins with eight chords, all with G in the bass, and with the four notes of each chord notated one on top of the other. In this performance each chord is broken into eight semiquavers, and Salamanca varies the order in which he arpeggiates them. There follows a passage in D major with a rising bass line and with c’# heard seven times as a lower auxiliary to d’; but when a chord of A major is firmly established, c’ naturals suddenly kick in, the bass works its way downwards, and the piece ends with a two-octave scale of G major. The scene is set for the Toccata and Fugue. The fugue is quite long, moving mainly in quick crotchets, with some interesting modulations to related keys. It is interspersed with short sequential passages in quavers where scrunchy dissonances are satisfyingly resolved. The excitement winds down at the end with a brief Adagio. The last movement is a bustling Allegro, where Weiss makes good use of the low 12th and 13th courses. He is given the credit for having these added to the 11-course lute round about 1719.
Salamanca’s lute has 13 courses, and was made by Maurice Ottiger. The treble notes are strong, but the bass are a little on the quiet side, which may be due more to the recording engineer than to the maker or player. The recording was made in the Donjon de Vez in Oise, France, which Salamanca says has an excellent acoustic for lutes. A few of the paintings from the Donjon’s modern art exhibition brighten the pages of the liner note booklet.
Stewart McCoy

Josquin: Inviolata

Jacob Heringman lute & vihuela
Inventa INV1004

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There have been many excellent recordings of lute music in recent years, and Jacob Heringman’s new CD of music by Josquin Des Prez (c.1450/1455-1521) is surely up with the best of them. Josquin’s music is sublime, and is enhanced by Heringman’s unhurried interpretation. There are no foot-tapping dance rhythms, no complex fantasies to amaze with virtuosity. This is sacred music – Marian motets –  by arguably the finest composer of his generation, and with it Heringman succeeds in creating a sound world of inner peace and serenity.
Lute intabulations are more than merely re-writing music in tablature. Skill is required in  deciding which notes to include, which to leave out, and which to decorate. In some cases, lutenists would use material from a vocal original as a starting point for creating an entirely new composition – a prelude or a fantasia.
In his excellent liner notes Heringman writes: “We know very little of the circumstances in which lute intabulations were played but they require a calm, small space, a refuge from the outside world where one might contemplate an inner one.” Such a place is St Cuthbert’s Chapel at Ushaw, where the recording was made. Its warm, clear acoustic is ideal for the lute. Heringman maintains that today’s lutenists should be as creative as their forebears were 500 years ago, and add something of their own to the music they play, rather than always slavishly recreate note for note the intabulations of others.
The CD begins with Heringman’s own intabulation of Josquin’s Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Virgo serena. It is a long piece – just short of nine minutes. All four voices are included in the intabulation. Heringman sustains it well, with tastefully restrained divisions, as it works its way through contrasting sections. The motet ends with some very slow chords for the words “O Mater Dei, memento mei. Amen”, not actually sung, of course, but imagined through the lute. Heringman uses a lute in E built by Michael Lowe, the lower pitch adding a certain gravitas.
Using the same lute, there follows an intabulation by Hans Gerle (published in 1533) of Josquin’s 5-voice Inviolata, integra et casta es. There are three sections. Gerle extends the range of the lute by tuning the 6th course down a tone for the sake of including all the low F’s. Alternative solutions could have been to omit them, include them an octave higher, or transpose all voices up a tone, which would set the piece uncomfortably high on the fingerboard of the lute. Re-tuning the sixth course of the lute seems the best option to me, although it results in some pretty weird chord shapes. Gerle omits some long notes, particularly where two voices are close in pitch. Almost all the divisions decorate the top part. They are for the most part formulaic and predictable, but nevertheless effective in sustaining the overall sound.
Heringman plays tracks 5-10 on a vihuela in G by Martin Haycock. The lute and vihuela share the same tuning, and often it is possible for the same music to be played on either instrument. However, apart from the obvious difference in body shape, there is another important difference: the strings of the lute are spaced closer at the nut than they are at the bridge, whereas the strings of the vihuela are close to parallel. Parallel stringing helps with awkward stretches high up the neck, and enables a vihuelist intabulator to make fewer compromises in tracking the original voice parts. The shorter string length of Heringman’s vihuela also helps with difficult chords.
Tracks 5-11 are derived from Josquin’s Missa de Beate Virgine. First is an intabulation by Alonso Mudarra (c.1510-1580) of Kyrie I, which has sections marked “Josquin” (for example, the last nine bars) to show where the intabulation closely follows Josquin’s original, and “Glosa” for extra material added by Mudarra. For Kyrie II Heringman turns to another vihuelist, Enriquez de Valderrábano (fl. 1547), but rather than use the note-for-note intabulation on folio 85r of Silva de Sirenas, he plays Valderrábano’s Fantasia on 73v which parodies Josquin’s Kyrie II (Fantasia remedada al chirie). In a similar vein, Heringman includes a short prelude of his own based on Mariam coronans from the same mass.
For the last track of music associated with Josquin’s Missa de Beate Virgine Heringman plays an intabulation of Cum sancto spiritu by Hans Neusidler (c. 1508/9-1563) printed in Der ander theil des Lautenbuchs (1536). It tracks Josquin’s vocal original quite closely, with divisions added mainly to the top part, but not exclusively so. Neusidler’s divisions in this volume are faster and more complex than those in his earlier volume – Ein Newgeordent Künstlich Lautenbuch – and there are some semiquavers here and there. As with other intabulators working long after Josquin’s death, Neusidler sharpens some notes and modernises cadences, so Josquin’s archaic endings of submediant-tonic are altered to leading note-tonic, usually with fast divisions. The piece ends – as do many German intabulations – with an extra flourish to a reiterated final chord.
In his liner notes Heringman argues a strong case for modern-day lutenists not always to follow slavishly intabulations of the past, but be creative and make up their own. This he does to good effect in his own intabulation of Josquin’s Salve Regina. The CD ends with an intabulation of Josquin’s Stabat Mater by Simon Gintzler (c.1500 – after 1547). Heringman gives a sensitive performance of Josquin’s touching portrayal of the inexplicable grief experienced by Mary watching her son die in agony on the cross.
Stewart McCoy


Dowland: A Fancy

Bor Zuljan lute
Ricercar RIC 425

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For his debut solo recording, Bor Zulyan presents a programme of music by John Dowland (1563-1626), concentrating particularly on fantasies (eight altogether) offset with pieces of a less melancholic nature. He begins with “A Fantasia” from Jane Pickeringe’s lute book (fols 23v-24r), included by Diana Poulton as no. 71 under “Pieces of uncertain ascription”. (There is no attribution in the manuscript.) It is a stark opening to a CD – silence is broken by a solitary semibreve h on the first course, followed by two minims at the same pitch. This is the beginning of a slow descending chromatic scale, a theme similar to Dowland’s Forlorn Hope Fancy. Zuljan sustains the piece well through its contrasting sections: the theme now in semibreves, now in minims, supported by tripla crotchets in the bass, with fast semiquavers above, down the 7th course to the lowest note of the instrument, and finally above harmonies of mainly subdominant and tonic.
Next is “A Dream”, Poulton no. 75, another piece of uncertain ascription, but very much in Dowland’s style. It has three repeated sections, and looks like a pavan. In the editorial notes to her edition of Dowland’s music, Poulton argues convincingly that it may be a setting of Lady Layton’s Pavan. Full marks to Zulyan for his own divisions added for repeats, which are stylish and tasteful.
There follows a third piece of uncertain ascription, “A Fancy”, Poulton no. 73. The opening motif is similar to “All in a garden green”, and there is much which reminds one of Dowland’s Fantasy 1a. The last section has an extraordinary tremolo passage which climaxes with Dowland’s characteristic ending of alternating subdominant minor and tonic chords. The manuscript stops the tremolo for those chords, but Zuljan, with acceptable artistic licence, keeps it going over the chords so as not to lose momentum until the final bar. Exciting stuff.
The excitement continues with “Can she excuse” and “The Right Honourable Robert, Earl of Essex, His Galliard”, which are essentially two different settings of the same galliard. However, I feel Zulyan plays them rather too quickly, and it’s all a bit of a rush. His timing is 2’55” for both, which averages out at slightly less than 1’30” each. This compares with David Miller at 1’58”, Nigel North at 1’55”, and Paul  O’Dette at 1’45”.
There is much to enjoy here – 18 tracks in all – including a spirited performance of the well-known “Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe” (with a surprisingly abrupt ending) and “Sir John Smith, His Almain”. The CD ends with “Farewell”, a fantasy with a theme involving an ascending chromatic scale, which may have influenced, or been influenced by, Thomas Weelkes’ madrigal, “ Cease sorrows now”.
In the liner notes, Zuljan includes a lengthy account of John Dowland’s life. I raise an eyebrow at “He was most likely born in 1563 in Westminster, London or Dublin.” On page 21 of her book, John Dowland, Diana Poulton gives two pieces of unequivocal evidence supplied by Dowland himself that he was born in 1563, and she shows that Dr Grattan Flood’s idea that Dowland was born in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, is pure fancy.
Zulyan plays an 8-course lute in F (at A=440) after Venere (1582) built by Jiří Čepelák (Prague, 2012). It has a well-balanced sound with clear, bright treble notes. The strings are in gut, made by Davide Longhi from Corde Drago. The overall sound is pleasant on the ears, particularly in the bass with the characteristic sound of gut, and one can forgive an occasional over-exuberant open 6th course played for final chords of G major.
Zulyan has an impressive technique, and shows much sensitivity in his playing. I look forward to his next CD.
Stewart McCoy

The Dark Lord’s Music

The Lutebook of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1582-1648)
Martin Eastwell
Music & Media MMC117
Music by Batcheler, Cato, Despond, Dowland, Du Gast, Gauthier, Hely, Edward Lord Herbert, Johnson & Reys

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Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1582-1648), brother of the poet George Herbert, was a significant figure in England in the early part of the 17th century, and was known as “The Dark Lord Herbert”. In his interesting and informative liner notes, Martin Eastwell describes Lord Herbert as diplomat, soldier, courtier, philosopher, poet, historian, musician and author of an entertaining autobiography. His lutebook was compiled over a number of years up to 1640 and contains music by the most important composers of that period: Robert Johnson, John Dowland, Daniel Batcheler, Diomedes Cato, Jakob Reys, and others. If Lord Herbert could get his hands round all the pieces in his book, he must have been a very accomplished lutenist.
The CD opens with a Prelude, the first of four pieces by Jakob Reys. The opening theme, which goes down a tone, up a minor third, and down a semitone, creates a mood of unease. After exploring various polyphonic options, the music breaks into a flurry of semiquavers and ends with a few solemn chords. Eastwell’s interpretation involves a fair amount of rhythmic freedom. In bar 30, using his musical common sense, he wisely plays quavers instead of the crotchets which appear in the manuscript and in Piotr Pozniak’s edition. Reys’ Sarabande (track 3) came as a pleasant surprise. The first section consists mainly of chords, including an unexpected flattened seventh chord in bar 2, and Eastwell strums them, as if playing a baroque guitar. Whether or not that was intended by the composer is a moot point, but I like it, since it effectively captures the spirit of the lively saraband, before it almost ground to a halt in the 18th century.
The only piece by John Dowland included here, is his galliard derived from Daniel Batcheler’s song “To plead my faith”. It displays a variety of techniques: broken chords, fast running quaver divisions now in the treble now in the bass, sequences of jerky dotted notes, and cadential trills. Eastwell adds a few tasteful ornaments of his own, and keeps a steady unhurried pace.
The longest track, at 9’ 49”, is one of five pieces by Daniel Batcheler – seven variations on “Une jeune fillette”, also known as La Monica. It is a most extraordinary piece of music, with considerable variety, and reflects the skill and imagination of one of England’s greatest lutenist-composers. Again, Eastwell chooses an unhurried speed, giving the listener a chance to savour his expressive playing. There are no ornaments in Herbert’s setting, but the ones Eastwell adds are spot on, enhancing the overall effect.
There are two tracks of music by Cuthbert Hely, whose music survives only in Lord Herbert’s manuscript. The first is a sombre Fantasia nominally in F minor, where much of the music is played on the lowest strings – not until bar 10 does it go above the fourth course. In the slow-moving polyphony, there seems to be a note missing in bar 72.
It may surprise some, but Eastwell has dispensed with the services of producers and recording engineers, and done the work himself. So often in my reviews, I have complained about microphones being too close to the lute, which can produce a sharp, unpleasant tone, and which does not reflect the soft, warm tone of a well-played lute. Eastwell has experimented with how best to record a lute, in particular where the microphone should be in relation to the lute, and the result is very impressive. Obtrusive string noise and heavy breathing are reduced.
Eastwell uses two 10-course lutes, one by Martin Haycock after Hans Frei, the other by Tony Johnson after Sixtus Rauwolf. Both lutes are strung in gut. Bass strings made of pure gut can sound rather dull, and modern wound strings have too much sustain. In his liner notes Eastwell explains that there is some evidence that bass strings at Herbert’s time were treated with metallic salts to increase density and improve the response. For the present CD, he uses such strings, which were made by Mimmo Peruffo, and the result is most satisfying.
Unlike so many of today’s “thumb-inside” players, Eastwell plays with his right thumb outside, which is appropriate for the period. In his notes, he refers to the manuscript of Johann Stobäus (a contemporary of Lord Herbert), who argues that playing with the thumb outside sounds purer, sharper, and brighter, whereas playing with the thumb inside sounds rotten and muffled. Thumb-outside certainly works better for lutes with many courses, and is more effective for music where the melody goes down to low strings.
The CD finishes with a Pavan composed by Lord Herbert himself. It is a gloomy piece in the unusual key of E flat minor. There are strange, unfamiliar chords with few open strings, and much of the time the music is played on low strings – in the first section there are only two notes to be played on the first course, and in the third section the last ten bars of 16 avoid the first course altogether. Dark music indeed for the Dark Lord.
Stewart McCoy

Amor, Fortuna et Morte

Madrigals by de Rore, Luzzaschi, Gesualdo & Monteverdi
Profeti della Quinta
Pan Classics PC 10396

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This collection of madrigals has been compiled for the excellent reason that the singers of the Profeti della Quinta love singing them. Interestingly the composers they choose span the 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries – Cipriano de Rore was born in 1515/6 and died in 1565, while Monteverdi was born in 1567 and died in 1643. While there is considerable variety here, various musical and thematic threads run all the way through the programme. The five male voices, joined in the later works by lute, achieve a remarkable blend and purity of intonation, and sing these madrigals with intense expression and musical intelligence. In addition to some very familiar material, we have an extraordinary madrigal by Scipione Lacorcia, who manages to outdo his model Gesualdo in harmonic eccentricity and melodic waywardness! The recording of Monteverdi’s “Lamento della Ninfa” (13) is a hair-raising aberration, as one of the group’s male altos hideously droops and swoops around Monteverdi’s melodic line in a style verging on caricature. Famously, Monteverdi asks the soloist to sing ‘at the beat of the emotions’ – however, this clearly means singing with a degree of mensural freedom rather than approximating the actual notes in a sort of anachronistic Sprechgesang. Just awful, but mercifully unique on the CD. Interspersed among the madrigals, we also have a number of pieces for solo lute, some of them very effective arrangements of madrigals. Founded in Galilee by the eminent singer/harpsichordist/director/composer Elam Rotem, Profeti della Quinta is now based in Basel.

D. James Ross