Award wining soloist Rolf Lislevand using a eleven-course baroque lute gives a revelatory recital of unaccompanied seventeenth century French lute music on the Astrée Naïve label. Lislevand states in the booklet notes that probably never since the period when this lute music was written has such beautiful music been performed by so few people. His sentiments are pretty accurate and I cannot understand why such wonderful music has been ignored for so long.
The popularity of the lute began to fade as the popularity of the violin increased and the lute became virtually obsolete with the advent of the pianoforte. The last great lute composers were J.S. Bach who significantly composed several lute suites and Handel who was utilising lute parts in his last opera Deidamia in 1741.
These compositions are successfully written for the most part in the style of short dances and grouped together in sets or suites. The characteristic fashion of the time of labelling each piece with a poetic or descriptive designation is used although the titles bear little or no resemblance to their character and expression. ‘La Belle Homicide’ the title of this Astrée Naïve release uses the name given by composer Denis Gaultier ‘de Paris’ to one of his works which was one of the most popular of the period.
Lislevand uses the manuscript of lute works from seven different French composers compiled by Barbe which is in itself a guarantee of the quality of the selected works. They are not arranged in any particular manner other than their common mode and tonality. Barbe was not afraid to join several of the pieces together by different composers into a more continuous work. To me, a non lute player, the seven French composers sound remarkably similar in style and owing, I guess, to the way that they are phrased I observed that it was virtually impossible for me to sense what notes were coming next.
If the listener has not read the explanation in the booklet notes it can come as a shock to hear several seconds of animal, bird and reptile calls at the beginning of three of the pieces. We are informed by the soloist that the recording sessions were undertaken in Maguelone Abbey in France at night and the nature sounds were left to provide atmosphere to the proceedings. Furthermore, for reasons of spontaneity and realism, some of Lislevand’s instrumental tuning and experimentation made during the recording sessions have not been edited out as can be heard on track 11 between points 1:44-1:52.
In the informative yet rather high-brow booklet notes lutenist Lislevand discusses how he finds the term ‘historical authentic performance practice’ now to be burnt-out and states that a new term ‘historical perception practice’ has arisen from the ashes, which explains what a performer desires to attain, subscribing to a specific attitude and belief. Somehow this all seems rather pretentious! I must say just how much I love the packaging of this Astrée Naïve release, in particularly the imaginative art work.
The lute playing is exceptionally fluent and the phrasing is perfectly judged with a sense of real involvement and empathy for the works. Through Rolf Lislevand’s amazing playing of these excellent compositions and near perfect acoustics this release was a revelation to me and touched my emotions in a most unique way leaving me with a remarkable sense of spirituality that I have never previously experienced with any recording.
The sound quality is in demonstration class and I could easily imagine being alongside the lutenist during the actual night recording session. I urge listeners who wouldn’t normally purchase a recital of lute works to hear this superlative recording. (Michael Cookson)