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Masters of the Lute - Wadsworth

Masters of the Lute - Wadsworth

Channel Classics  CCS SA 24206

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


John Dowland (1563-1626): Preludium; Forlorn Hope; Fancy; Lachrimae Pavin; Lachrimae Galliard; My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home; The Right Honourable Robert, Earl of Essex, His Galliard; Greensleeves
Giovanni Gieralomo Kapsberger (c1580-1651): Toccata Arpeggiata; Kapsberger
Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638): Toccata X; Chiaconna in partite variate
Robert de Visée (c1655-c1732): Prélude; Allemande; Courante; Sarabande; Gigue; Chaconne des Harlequins
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) 18 Passacaglia

Matthew Wadsworth (lute, theorbo)

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Review by John Miller - June 25, 2007

Take refuge from a rapidly increasing stack of multichannel Mahler blockbusters and get back to basics. This is the purest musical experience: one instrument, one superb player, a state-of the-art recording and a pair of ears. The lute was developed from the Arabic "oud", brought back by the crusaders returning to Europe from the Middle East. It had a more sophisticated and laid-back sound than most of the existing Medieval and early Renaissance instruments, so it quickly became the instrument of choice for entertaining in the homes of the well-to do and nobility, particularly in England. The English lutenists themselves were in great demand all over Europe at this time.

Matthew Wadsworth, a former pupil of the great lutenist and teacher Nigel North, presents us with a fine recital of music from the lute's Golden Age from the mid-16th to early 18th centuries. He plays on 8- and 13-course lutes as well as a theorbo, a variety of bass lute also called the chitarrone, which you may have heard as a continuo instrument in Baroque orchestral and chamber music. It is interesting to test the resolution of your system (and your "ear") by detecting which of the instruments is being played.

The name of John Dowland (1563-1626) of course comes immediately to mind when the lute is mentioned. He was a stellar figure in the music-making of the Elizabethan court, writing several books of lute pieces and developing the art of the lute song to the highest degree. A wonderful companion to this recording is Honey from the Hive: Songs by John Dowland - Kirkby / Rooley. Dowland was famous for his dignified melancholy; not all the pieces in the group selected by Wadsworth are in this mood, but we do have the well-known Lachrimae Pavan, based on the tune from Dowland's song 'Flow my Teares'. This, like many of the lute pieces, takes the form of a set of variations, in which the art of divisions is demonstrated - this is one of the most characteristic techniques developed by the lutenists, whereby the notes in a melody are divided or speeded up by diminishing their time-values, often producing exciting and dazzling displays. Dances are also important compositional forms, particularly the French forms such as Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue. At the end of the Dowland group, Wadsworth adds a teasing piece by Francis Cutting, who takes the well-loved Greensleeves melody (often attributed to King Henry VIII) and shows the Elizabethan fondness for ciphers and puzzles by presenting us with fragments of it wrapped up in variations and divisions. Just as you think you recognise the theme, it vanishes into thin air, only to re-emerge as another phrase further on!

For the next groups by Kappsberger, Alessandro Piccini and Robert de Viseé, Wadsworth turns to the theorbo, with its slightly brighter upper-register overtones and much deeper bass range. Kappsberger even gives us a portrait of himself in music, wonderfully grave and noble at the start but soon the divisions begin and the faster notes positively fly above the dance tune below. These pieces show how the other lutenists on continental Europe were headed, Kapsberger in particular developing a whole new set of techniques for the theorbo, including arpeggio passages. as in the Toccata Arpeggiata. This reminded me of the C major prelude from Book 1 of Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues. Piccini, true to his nationality, has an operatic-like recitative, highly emotionally charged, at the opening of his Toccata X.

This is mostly gentle but profoundly revitalising music, intimately recorded with great detail by Channel in 5.0 DSD, so that one can hear the finger-pads upon gut, and even faint fingerboard noises by the musician at work. Matthew Wadsworth becomes an honoured guest in your home and entertains you for just short of a magical hour.

The disc is nicely presented in a plastic and cardboard digipack, with the notes (in English, French and German), by Wadsworth himself, in a booklet tucked into a pocket in the front cover.

The lutenists provided us with music from another age, where life moved more deliberately, with time for introspection, philosophy, poetry and fantasy, and there was a need to escape from the bitterness and chaos brought about by warring religious factions. Somehow it still seems relevant today, and I strongly recommend this excellent disc.

Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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