Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A must have release from BIS Records of Jakob Lindberg playing Jacobean lute music on the c. 1590 Sixtus Rauwolf lute

One of the most prized recordings on my shelves is the complete solo lute music by John Dowland played by Jakob Lindberg  (BIS-CD-722/724). On these recordings he plays a ten course lute made in 1977, an eight course lute made in 1980, as well as an eight course orpharion from 1994.

These instruments make a wonderful sound, but what creates a special interest with a new release from BIS , is Jakob Lindberg’s choice of instrument, a lute made by Sixtus Rauwolf, Augsburg c. 1590 dating to around 1590, making it, probably, the oldest lute in playing condition. A brand mark identifies the lute as having been made by Rauwolf and dendrochronology has confirmed the wood as having been felled between 1418 and 1560.

When I say ‘playing condition’, that has only been made possible due to the skill of two eminent lute makers, Michael Lowe and Stephen Gottlieb and violin maker and restorer, David Munro, who have meticulously restored this wonderful old instrument. More information on the work carried out to restore the lute to playing condition can be found on the website:

The lute was already in a fairly complete state with an attractive and finely varnished maple back and soundboard with many original bars, probably intended as an 8 course lute. There was a beautifully shaped baroque lute neck by Leonard Mausiel, Nuremberg, 1715.

Although both soundboard and back were somewhat cracked, they were made of strong, dense wood, making it suitable to make a fine 11course baroque lute. The restoration, over a period of two years, involved varnish repairs and making invisible crack patches.

This generously filled disc, lasting around 81 minutes, opens with John Dowland’s (1563-1626) A Fancy. Lindberg is, of course, very much at home in Dowland and, here, the sound of this 16th century lute is remarkably fine with a wide range of tone with some extremely virtuosic playing towards the end.

Although Lindberg gives us three works by Dowland he gives over most of this disc to lesser known composers of the Jacobean era such as Thomas Robinson (c.1560-1610) who is initially represented by his Merry Melancholy, a lovely little piece, a stately, though intricate Galliard, Walking in a Country Town that has a simple little tune and a short but lively Gigue, all played expertly by Lindberg.

Robert Johnson (c.1583-1633) is first heard with his lovely Pavan, exquisitely played and full of the fashionable melancholy of the day. A really fine piece.

Jakob Lindberg includes a number of anonymous pieces starting with a group of five, a lively Scottish Dance with just the hint of a Scottish lilt, a leisurely Draw Near to me and Love Me, the unusual rhythms of Hence to me Molly Gray, surely a dance tune, a Scottish Tune with a lilting melody of some beauty and Scottish Hunts Up, a typically Scottish tune that rapidly moves forward.

Daniel Bacheler (1572-after 1610) appears to have been a fine composer. Here we have his lovely flowing Mounsiers Almain, with many intricate decorations played brilliantly by Lindberg.

Cuthbert Hely (fl.1620-1648) is represented by his Fantasia, which has the melancholy feel of Dowland’s Lachrimae but offers a darker tone, using much of the lower range of the lute. His Saraband is livelier but also seems to bring a rich, darker sound, presumably a feature of this composer.

Returning to John Dowland shows how he takes some beating as a composer. His Battle Galliard or King of Denmark’s Galliard is something of a classic of the period, sounding particularly fine from Lindberg on this fine lute.

More works by Daniel Bacheler follow, a quiet, thoughtful Prelude, a rather fine La Jeune Fillette, a more extended piece with some quite intricate and complex textures wonderfully played by Lindberg and a shorter but no less difficult Courante. No wonder Dowland took a theme by such a fine composer as Bacheler on which to base one of his own Galliards.

Three works attributed to Jacques Gaultier ( fl. 1617-1652) follow, a lively and transparent Courant, Cloches, imitating church bells and finally another attractive Courante.

The final work on this disc by Daniel Bacheler is his lovely Pavan, a terrific piece so finely and sensitively played here.

Two more anonymous pieces follow, a very attractive little Prelude and an equally attractive John Come Kiss Me Now that has quite a catchy tune, played with great panache by Lindberg.

The second Robert Johnson piece on this disc is his Fantasia which brings something of the melancholy of his Pavan, earlier on this disc.

More Thomas Robinson is played, his lovely Spanish Pavan, full of invention and often with a Spanish feel, a gorgeous little Gigue, a lovely piece simply called A Toy and Row Well, you Mariners, a most attractive piece.

Jakob Lindberg returns to John Dowland to conclude this disc with Sir John Langton’s Pavan, a work that confirms his pre-eminence as a composer for the lute, an exquisitely written work with Lindberg drawing such fine sounds form his 16th century lute.

This is a very special disc, vividly recorded, with Jakob Lindberg’s choice of works an absolute delight. This feels like a real step back in time, a material link with the past through this lovely lute and the artistry of Jakob Lindberg. There are top notch booklet notes by Jakob Lindberg, making this a must have for all early music enthusiasts and lovers of fine lute playing.

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