musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Lute music of the late Renaissance

[I] "Polonica - Lute music with Polish connections around 1600"
Michal Gondko, lute
rec: Oct 2014, Basse-Bodeux (B), Eglise de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Ramée - RAM 1406 (© 2015) (70'51")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Allemande (Bathori) [2]; 5 B[alletti] P[olachi]; Cantio polonica; [Chorea] eiusdem nationis Chorea polonica; Chorea polonica Mówi na mie sasiada AF; Danza [polacca?]; Ein Pol[n]ischer Tantz (Bathori); Ein polnischer Tantz (Zuzanneczko); Polnisch Tantz; Polskey tanecz welmy pekney; Taned Spolski; Villanella polonica; Diomedes CATO (1560/65-after 1607/18): Galliarda di Diomede; Praelud[ium] Diomed[is] [4]; Wojciech DLUGORAJ (1557/58-after c1619?): Chorea polonica AD; [Chorea polonica] eiusdem [authoris]; Fantasia AD [6]; Fantasia Alberti Dlugorai Poloni [4]; Finale Alberti Dlugoraj [4]; Villanella AD; Tobias HUME (c1579-1645): A Polish Ayre [5]; A Pollish Vilanell [5]; Jacob REYS (c1550-c1605): Fantasia Iac[obi] Reys [4]; Galliarda eiusdem authoris [8]; Kasper SIELICKI (c1570-?): Casp[ari] Polon[i] G[agliarda]; Giovanni Antonio TERZI (fl c1580-1600): Ballo Polaco [3]; Nicolas VALLET (c1583-after 1642): Autre Taned Spolski [7]; Chançon a la Polonnoise Susannesco [7]; Matthäus WAISSEL (c1535/40-1602): [Polnischer Tantz] No. 1 [1]; [Polnischer Tantz] No. 10 [1]; [Polnischer Tantz] No. 13 [1]; [Polnischer Tantz] No. 19 [1]; [Polnischer Tantz] No. 33 [1]

Sources: [1] Matthäus Waissel, Tabulatura, 1591; [2] Adrian Denss, Florilegium, 1594; [3] Giovanni Antonio Terzi, il secondo libro de intavolatura di liuto, 1599; [4] Jean-Baptiste Besard, Thesaurus Harmonicus, 1603; [5] Tobias Hume, The First Part of Ayres, 1605; [6] Elias Mertel, Hortus musalis novus, 1615; [7] Nicolas Vallet, Secretum Musarum, 1615; [8] Jean-Baptiste Besard, Novus Partus, 1617

[II] Jacob REYS (Jacques Le Polonois) (c1550-c1605): "Pièces de Luth"
Paul Kieffer, lute
rec: May 2015, Rheinfelden (D), Schloss Beugen
Ævitas - Æ-12157 (© 2015) (67'13")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Balet Jacob; Bransle d[e] Nicola[s] p[ar] Sig[nor] Jacobum [4]; [Courante] Ballard Premier couple Polonois le 2d; COura[n]te Mr Iacques Pollonois [3]; Fantasia de Pollac [4]; Fantasia Iac[obi] Reys; Fantasie composed by the most famous Iacobus Reys of Augusta [2]; 4 Fantasies Jacob; Gagliarda Jacob; Gall[iard] Polonois; Galliarda eiusdem authoris [5]; PRael[udium] Iac[obi] Reys [1]; PRael[udium] Iac[obi] Reys; 3 Preludes Jacob; 2 Preludes Pollonois; Sarabande Jacob; Sur le Courante de Perrichon Jacob; Susanne un jour de Jacob; Une Ieune Fillette Mr Iasques Pollonis; 3 Voltes Jacob

Sources: [1] Jean-Baptiste Besard, Thesaurus Harmonicus, 1603; [2] Robert Dowland, Varietie of Lute-Lessons, 1610; [3] Joachim van den Hove, Delitiae Musicae, 1612; [4] Georg Leopold Fuhrmann, Testudo Gallo-Germanica, 1615; [5] Jean-Baptiste Besard, Novus Partus, 1617

The lute has been one of the major instruments in Western music history from the earliest times until the late 18th century. In the Middle Ages and the early renaissance very little music was written for specific instruments, and therefore most music especially intended for the lute dates from the 16th century onwards.

The lute was used in various roles: to accompany a singer or a group of singers, as part of an instrumental ensemble, and as a solo instrument. In the latter capacity it was especially popular among aristocratic circles. Learning to play an instrument was an obvious part of the education of young aristocrats, and the lute was especially suited to take it in their beggage, when they were going to make a grand tour. Michal Gondko, in the liner-notes to the first disc to be reviewed here, mentions Hieronim Balinski, a Polish aristocrat, who during a stay in Italy compiled a lute tablature for personal use which he bequeathed to his son. He also mentions that memoirs, letters and biographies indicate that this was pretty common at the time, and that young aristocrats even received lute tuition during their travels. Extant manuscripts and booklets confirm that lute music was very popular across Europe.

For many years Gondko has collected music which in one way or another is connected to Poland. Such music has been found in sources across the continent, but unfortunately only a few Polish sources are still extant, mainly due to the destruction of World War II. "Polish connections", as Gondko defines it, means "the presence of Polish language in the title or incipit, an attribution to a Polish lutenist, or a copyist's identifi cation of a piece as 'Polish'." The heyday of such music seems to have been the decades around 1600.

As one may expect, most pieces have come down to us without the name of the composer. Among the composers who are known, four need to be mentioned: Wojciech (or Albert) Dlogoraj, Diomedes Cato, Jacob Reys and Kasper Sielicki. Dlugoraj started his career in the service of a Polish nobleman, and later worked at the royal court. In the late 1580s he left Poland and then worked in Germany. Cato was Italian by birth; because of his Protestant conviction, his father left Italy for Cracow in 1565, soon followed by his wife and children. For two periods he served the King of Poland as lutenist. The largest part of his output comprises lute music, but he also composed some music for an instrumental ensemble and vocal pieces. Reys went to France in 1574 in the retinue of Henri III and stayed there, serving as a lutenist and valet de chambre ordinaire du roi until his death. He was known in France as Jacques le Polonois. Sielicki was probably a pupil of Dlugoraj. He is documented as lutenist to king Sigismund III Vasa from 1588 to 1591.

As the track-list shows, most pieces are dances, although there are also some free forms, such as fantasias and preludes, and some pieces which seem to be arrangements of vocal music. However, according to Gondko, it seems impossible to make a clear distinction between dances and songs. "The majority of such compositions are short, rhythmically and harmonically straightforward settings with an irresistible melodic charm." This could suggest that this disc is a sequence of simple pieces of no substance, and is therefore unsuitable to be listened to at a stretch. Obviously this kind of music was not written for such a way of listening, but I had no problems in playing this disc from start to finish without a pause. There is enough variety to keep the listener's attention, but it is also due to Michal Gondko's engaging and differentiated playing. Moreover, he does more than just playing the notes. Repertoire like this, which often has its origin in improvisation, requires some creativity of the interpreter, and that is what Gondko brings to the pieces he has selected. This repertoire is largely unknown, and lovers of the lute should not hesitate to add this disc to their collection.

The name of Jacob Reys, or Jacques le Polonois, has already been mentioned. Gondko includes a couple of pieces from his pen in his recording. The American lutenist Paul Kieffer devoted an entire disc to his music. The fact that he spent most of his life in France explains why the almost 60 pieces that can be attributed to him, are written in the French style. A characteristic of his oeuvre is the typical French style brisée, which can be found, for example, in his fantasias. Eighteen pieces in this genre have been preserved, and they attest to his command of counterpoint. In addition to the fantasies, the program includes dances such as gaillarde, volta, sarabande and courante, as well as preludes. Some of the latter are close in character to the fantasias, whereas others have a more improvisatory character. Two pieces refer to vocal music: Susanne un jour is not an arrangement of the well-known chanson by Lassus, but of a hitherto unidentifiable work. The programme concludes with variations on the then famous song Une jeune fillette, known in Italy as La Monica.

Jacob Reys not only left a corpus of high-quality lute music. He is also important from the angle of playing technique. Kieffer writes: "Since Jacob was at the forefront of new compositional styles, I do believe he may have been one of the pioneers of the drastically different playing techniques that completely took over the lute during the last quarter of the 16th century. These changes include the shifting of the right hand towards the bridge, the use of a different part of the fingers of the right hand to pluck the strings, and a greater reliance on the left hand to perform graces, resulting in an increasing amount of unmeasured ornamentation".

Kieffer deserves praise for his extensive research which has resulted in this recording and informative liner-notes. This disc is his debut, and it is a direct hit. Kieffer's playing is excellent, delicate when needed, and thanks to his good articulation and the transparency of the sound of his lute, the polyphony of in particular the fantasias comes off to full extent. His sense of rhythm brings the dances to life.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Michal Gondko
Paul Kieffer

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