Three Great Lutes

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Program: #20-14   Air Date: Mar 23, 2020

Paul O’Dette with music of Albert de Rippe, Nigel North and Francesco da Milano, and Jakob Lindberg with works of Jan Antonin Losy.

I. Albert de Rippe: "Un perfaict sonneur de Leut” (Paul O’Dette, lute & Renaissance guitar)). Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902275.

Rippe: Works for lute 'Un perfaict sonneur de Leut'
Albert de Rippe, originally named Alberto da Ripa, was an Italian lutenist who achieved success in the 16th century court of the French king, Francis I, and his output of fantasias, intabulations, and dances filled six volumes, which were published posthumously by his student, Guillaume de Morlaye. What made de Rippe's lute music unusual for its time was its independence from accompanied vocal music (even though a number of his intabulations were based on chansons), and its expressive potential and intricate displays allowed the full flowering of his ideas beyond familiar patterns. Paul O'Dette is a leader among lutenists, always considering his art in the historical context, so even a relatively forgotten composer such as de Rippe receives his attention. O'Dette's loving treatment of de Rippe's music goes beyond filling a gap in the historical record. The richness of the counterpoint and the virtuosity of de Rippe's writing, clearly intended for his own abilities, show an expansion of possibilities for instrumental music that would influence keyboard works in the following century. Harmonia Mundi's studio recording is quite close to O'Dette, though there is enough resonance to keep the sound from being dry. 
From Early Music America: Playing the lute was more than just a past-time in early 16th-century Italy; it was a highly esteemed courtly activity. Famous lutenist-composers such as Marchetto Cara and Bartolomeo Tromboncino flourished at the Este court in Mantua. But the Mantuan-born lutenist Alberto da Ripa is much harder to trace in his earlier years. What we do know is that by the time he was 28, he had left for France, where François I paid him double the annual salary of the other lutenists and lavished him with gifts of money and land.

Albert De Rippe, as he became known, rose through the ranks, performing in the highest echelons of society (on one occasion he joined Francesco da Milano in playing for Pope Paul III). Praised for decades by writers and musicians across western Europe, he was exceptionally well known in his lifetime. All the more surprising, then, to realize that only three of his works were published while he was alive; the rest of his output was printed posthumously under the direction of a former student, Guillaume Morlaye.

Like other composers, De Rippe’s work centers on the most popular genres of his day: fantasias for both lute and guitar, dances, and intabulations of vocal works, almost entirely French. But in significant contrast to his peers, he creates much greater technical challenges: five- and six-note chords instead of the typical three, sweeping arpeggiated chords; long, singable phrases; and a wide palette of tone colors. Because of these technical and compositional attributes, De Rippe’s music tends to stick out from the crowd. That’s why, Paul O’Dette explains in liner notes, a number of the dances and the final guitar fantasia are included on this album, despite not having been attributed to him.

If anyone should know how best to identify a De Rippe work in the wild, it would be O’Dette; as one of the most influential, technically precise, and emotionally expressive performers in the lute world, he is a fine candidate to be De Rippe’s modern-day counterpart. He more than gives the music its due; the technical demands of these works might not be apparent to listeners who don’t themselves play the lute, but their contrapuntal richness and melodic beauty certainly are. Some of De Rippe’s works have been previously recorded, by O’Dette and others, but this is the first album dedicated solely to this composer in some time. (Hopkinson Smith’s recording, in comparison, was released in 1978.)

Paul O’Dette

To many listeners, then, these works are likely to be unfamiliar. The album is beautifully constructed to that end, as the fantasias on new themes are interspersed among pavanes and galliards on familiar bass lines, or intabulations of better-known vocal works. For me, these in particular permit the listener to hear what De Rippe is doing; listen, for example, to the ways he fleshes out the vocal texture through ornamental passages in “Martin menoit,” or by doubling a moving line at the octave, or breaking up chordal passages and building in greater numbers of voices in “Douce memoire” or “O passi sparsi.”

O’Dette is at his expressive finest throughout the album, but the concluding guitar fantasias (“Fantasie II de Guyterne” and “La Seraphine”) are standouts, and the close acoustic space allows him to really bring out the dynamic contrasts in “L’Eccho.” It’s a lovely, and lovingly created, recording, certain to elevate De Rippe’s reputation as a master of his craft.—Karen Cook

1 Fantasie XIX   3'29

2 Pavane "La Romanesque"   2'40

3 Gaillarde "La Milanoise"   1'22

4 Fantasie III   4'26

5 Douce mémoire   3'50

6 On en dira ce qu'on voudra   1'45

7 Fantasie II   4'21

8 O passi sparsi   4'59

9 Pavane I   1'32

10 Galliarde I   1'21

11 Fantasie VIII   3'10

12 L'eccho [Dieu qui conduis]   3'17

13 Galliarde II   1'23

14 Fantasie IX   5'35

15 Or vien ça vien mamie Perrette   1'58

16 Fantasie I de Guyterne   4'23

17 Pavane II   2'57

18 Galliarde III   1'54

19 Fantasie XXII   4'54

20 Martin menoit   2'32

21 Fantasie V   2'44

22 Galliarde IV   1'05

23 Gaillarde Piemontoise   0'58

24 Fantasie II "de Guyterne"   4'11

25 La Seraphine   4'56


II. A Decoration of Silence: The lute music of Il Divino (Nigel North, lute & viola da mano). BGS CD 128.

From Early Music Review: Francesco Canova da Milano’s ricercars and fantasias are freely composed polyphonic pieces, and consist largely of short sequences of musical ideas, each developed and explored. The present CD comprises 29 of them, which Nigel North arranges into sets according to key. The first set (Ness 6, 61, 67 65, 23) are all in F major. A distinctive feature of Francesco’s style is his constantly shifting harmonic vocabulary, heard to good effect in Ricercar 6. B naturals replace B flats to take us sharp side of the spectrum, and E flats replace E naturals to take us flat side. However, these shifts are too temporary to count as modulation to a different key, but rather they are chromatic touches to an enriched palette of chords in F major. An interesting example is Fantasia 61, which effectively ends with a perfect cadence (C – F) in bar 34, rounded off with a plagal cadence (B flat – F) in bar 36. However, to reach the B flat chord Francesco inserts a quick chord of E flat – a secondary subdominant – which exaggerates the move flat side for the plagal cadence. Many of Francesco’s pieces are similar in character, indeed some passages occur in more than one piece: the passage in bars 22-4 of Fantasia 61 is the same as bars 52-4 of Fantasia 67. For variety North adopts different speeds: Ricercar 6 is slow and rhapsodic. His rhythmic freedom is effective in clarifying phrasing and drawing attention to special chords, although sometimes it creates an unsettling jerkiness especially in descending scalic passages. Excitement is lost in bar 25, where four quavers are slowed down almost to the speed of crotchets elsewhere in the piece. In contrast, Fantasia 61 has no quavers, and North takes it at a fast and sprightly tempo. He corrects a dittographical error in Fantasia 65 by omitting bars 110-2: Arthur Ness in his collected Milano edition and Martin Shepherd in the Lute Society Milano series, both reproduce these bars, which I accept were wrongly duplicated in the original.

The G minor set (Ness 70, 71, 88, 55) begins with two beautiful miniature ricercars (70, 71) taken from Vincenzo Galilei’s Intavolatura de Lauto (Rome, 1563), published 20 years after Francesco’s death. Ricercar 70 begins with five rolled chords, and grows into imitative polyphony, with the theme heard at three different octaves. North strings his lute as Francesco did, that is with the 4th, 5th and 6th courses strung in octaves. When one of these courses is plucked, both notes will normally be heard, but it is possible to emphasise the lower octave by plucking with one’s right-hand thumb, or the upper octave by plucking with one’s index finger. In bar 31 of Ricercar 71, a low f# on the 4th course is marked with a dot for the note to be played with the index finger, but North appears to use his thumb, bringing out the lower octave instead. Fortunately this tiny detail does not detract from North’s thoughtful and expressive performance. In Ricercar 88 he changes c6 to a5, I think correctly, which coincidentally matches a similar passage in bars 55-7 of Ricercar 6; there are some beautifully placed chords in bar 27, but his rallentando at bar 51 loses the excitement of four fast cadential quavers.

The third set (Ness 78, 29, 91, 5) is in F major, and is played on a viola da mano tuned a tone higher than the lute. Both instruments were built by Malcolm Prior, and have a bright, clear tone, ideal for this repertoire. The earliest printed source of Francesco’s music is Intavolatura de Viola o vero Lauto  (1536), which mentions both instruments; it is likely that the music in Italian lute tablature was intended for the lute, and that the music in Neapolitan tablature was intended for the viola da mano, but both instruments have the same tuning, and they could be used interchangeably for any of Francesco’s music. North also uses the viola da mano for the last two sets (Ness 52, 21, 63, 20, 18, 19).

Some of Francesco’s pieces are quite short, lasting one minute or less. Ricercar 91 has a mere 29 bars, but North spins it out to 1’36” by playing it through twice. For track 14 he plays Ricercar 14, runs straight into Ricercar 74, and then goes back for a repeat of Ricercar 14, the whole thing lasting just 2’16”. Fantasia 25, on the other hand, is an extended work, made up of many sections, each developing a particular musical idea; most surprising and effective are three semibreve chords at bars 111-3, which temporarily call a halt to the constant hustle and bustle of quavers and semiquavers scurrying across the fingerboard. Fantasia 83 appears twice in Cambridge University Library Dd.2.11: on folio 16r (used by Ness in his edition), and folio 18r (used by Shepherd for the Lute Society Milano series). North plays the version on 18r, but he does not include c4 in the first bar, a note which Shepherd reinstates for the sake of imitation of the opening theme. The CD ends with a long Fantasia from the Castelfranco MS, which does not have a Ness number, because it was discovered after Ness’s edition was published.
This is North’s second CD devoted to the music of Francesco. The first was Dolcissima et Amorosa  (BGS 122). I hope he will be tempted to produce a third.

Ricercare No. 6 00:03:29
1 Ricercare No. 6 00:02:53 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 61 00:01:00
2 Fantasia No. 61 00:01:00 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 67 00:02:00
3 Fantasia No. 67 00:01:42 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 65 00:02:36
4 Fantasia No. 65 00:02:22 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 23 00:03:22
5 Fantasia No. 23 00:03:22 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 70 00:01:00
6 Ricercare No. 70 00:00:55 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 71 00:01:16
7 Ricercare No. 71 00:00:15 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 88 00:03:04
8 Ricercare No. 88 00:03:04 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 55 00:05:18
9 Fantasia No. 55 00:05:18 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 78 00:01:00
10 Ricercare No. 78 00:01:00 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 29 00:01:45
11 Fantasia No. 29 00:01:45 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 91 00:01:36
12 Ricercare No. 91 00:01:36 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 5 00:03:41
13 Fantasia No. 5 00:03:41 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 14 - Ricercare No. 75 - Ricercare No 00:02:16
14 Ricercare No. 14 - Ricercare No. 75 - Ricercare No 00:02:16 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 44 00:01:39
15 Ricercare No. 44 00:01:39 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 64 00:02:36
16 Fantasia No. 64 00:02:18 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 25 00:04:00
17 Fantasia No. 25 00:04:00 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 69 00:02:04
18 Ricercare No. 69 00:02:04 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 83 00:01:56
19 Fantasia No. 83 00:01:56 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 82 00:01:24
20 Fantasia No. 82 00:01:24 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 50 00:02:27
21 Ricercare No. 50 00:02:27 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 26 00:01:51
22 Fantasia No. 26 00:01:51 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 52 00:02:00
23 Ricercare No. 52 00:01:44 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 21 00:02:45
24 Fantasia No. 21 00:02:45 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 63 00:01:17
25 Fantasia No. 63 00:01:17 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 20 00:03:32
26 Fantasia No. 20 00:03:33 North, Nigel
Ricercare No. 18 00:02:41
27 Ricercare No. 18 00:02:41 North, Nigel
Fantasia No. 19, "Bellissima" 00:04:53
28 Fantasia No. 19, "Bellissima" 00:04:53 North, Nigel
Fantasia de Francesco Milanese divina 00:04:37
29 Fantasia de Francesco Milanese divina 00:04:37 North, Nigel

III. Jan Antonin Losy: Note d’oro (Jakob Lindberg, lute—by Sixtus Rauwolf, c.1590). BIS CD 2462.

note d'oro Product Image
From Early Music Review: Jan Antonín Losy  (c.1650-1721) is arguably one of the most important composers for the 11-course lute, at least according to the frontispiece of LeSage de Richée’s Cabinet der Lauten (Breslau, 1695), where a pile of books has Losy’s music on top, above books by Gaultier, Mouton and Dufaut. I have always admired his music, and played some every day in 2019 without exception. His compositions are satisfying to play, pleasing to the ear, with well-sructured melodic lines, interesting harmonies, and considerable variety. There is a lightness of texture resulting from a fair amount of style brisé. In 1715, the Prague Kapellmeister, Gottfried Heinrich Stöltzel, described how Losy would savour a particular dissonance, calling it “una nota d’oro” (a golden note), hence the title of Jakob Lindberg’s CD.

The CD begins with a suite in A minor, compiled by Lindberg from various sources, including a Prelude adapted from one for baroque guitar, and a Courante and Double with an unobtrusive touch of notes inégales and a surprising secondary dominant towards the end. Lindberg’s playing is most gratifying – lively yet unhurried, with well-shaped phrases allowing the harmonies to follow their logical course to a final cadence, which is almost invariably decorated with dissonance on the tonic. An Aria is played at a very sedate speed, giving time for delicate ornaments to be heard clearly, followed by a thoughtful Gavotte enhanced by what I assume are Lindberg’s own additional notes for repeats. The suite ends with a lively two-voice Caprice, where fast running notes are shared between treble and bass. Next comes a suite in F major, the seven selected movements long known to modern lute players from Emil Vogel’s Z Loutnových Tabulatur Českého Baroka (Prague: Editio Supraphon, 1977). After a slow, stately start, the overture breaks into three fast beats in a bar, developing a theme of three crotchets and four quavers, before returning briefly to the slower speed of the beginning. Then comes a restful Allemande with much imitation, nice little variants (presumably Lindberg’s own) for repeats, and a passage of parallel tenths played brisé for the repeat. The overall pitch then drops for a Courante, which canters along in continuous quavers in style brisé, so that in the second section there are only three places where more than one note is played at a time. The piece ends with a descending sequence, which Lindberg decorates for a petite reprise. In contrast the following Sarabande has a thicker texture, with many rolled chords. Its second section begins with a surprising chord of C minor, played on the lower reaches of the lute – its highest note (g) is on the fourth course. As with so many of these pieces, Lindberg tastefully adds myriad extra notes to enliven repeats.

There is just one place in the whole of this delightful CD where I think something is not quite right. In the Sarabande of the Suite in D minor, the F major chord at the start of bar 13 should really be in root position, but Lindberg plays it as a second inversion with the note c in the bass, and does the same for the repeat. I wonder if his edition has that note accidentally notated one line too low in the tablature.

With suites in A minor, F major, G major, D minor, G minor and B flat major, ending with a Chaconne in F major, there is much to enjoy. Apart from Lindberg’s masterful playing, there is one thing which makes it all rather special: his lute was built c. 1590 by Sixtus Rauwolf of Augsburg, probably as a seven- or eight-course instrument, and surprisingly it still has its original soundboard. It was later adapted to be an 11-course lute, and was restored a few years ago by Michael Lowe, Stephen Gottlieb and David Munro. Its sound is well balanced, with clear bright notes in the treble, and bass notes which are not too loud and do not sustain too long. With its variety of tone colours, it helps make the music sing, and must undoubtedly be an inspiration to play. Note d’oro indeed.

01 Prelude 1:02
02 Allemande 3:03
03 Courante / Double 4:00
04 Aria 2:06
05 Gavotte 1:15
06 Caprice 1:16
  Suite In F Major
07 Ouverture 3:51
08 Allemande 2:49
09 Courante 2:28
10 Sarabande 3:03
11 Menuet 1:35
12 Gigue 2:21
  Suite in G major
13 Allemande 2:54
14 Courante 3:00
15 Aria 2:36
16 Menuets I & II 2:14
17 Gigue 1:05
  Suite In D Minor
18 Prelude 0:57
19 Allemande 2:55
20 Courante 2:04
21 Sarabande 2:21
22 Gigue 1:21
23 Bourrée 1:13
24 Menuet 1:10
25 Gigue 1:53
  Suite in G minor
26 Gavotte 1:25
27 Courante 3:01
28 Sarabande 2:23
29 Menuet 1:33
30 Rondeau 1:59
31 Menuet In C Major 1:35
  Suite In B Flat Major
32 Allemande 4:28
33 Courante 2:59
34 Sarabande 2:20
35 Gigue 2:25
36 Chaconne In F Major 3:18

Composer Info

Albert de Rippe (1500-1551), Francesco Canova da Milano, Jan Antonín Losy (c.1650-1721)

CD Info

Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902275, BGS CD 128, BIS CD 2462.