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CD Review: Three Lutes Played With Love

A drawing of Adam Falkenhagen

A drawing of Adam Falkenhagen, a 17th-century German lutenist and composer.


Tre liuti
Mark Rimple, lute

By Karen Cook

The “tre liuti” referred to in the title of Mark Rimple’s latest recording are the three lutes on which he performs on this album: a six-course lute, a ten-course lute, and a fourteen-course archlute. Taking each up in largely chronological order, Rimple showcases over two centuries of works for the Renaissance and Baroque lute. The 16th through early-18th centuries were the heyday for printed intabulations of works for a lute in G tuning (the same tuning as a tenor viol, hence its moniker vieil ton), at least in Italy; by the late 17th century, France and parts north began to shift to a D minor tuning, but Italy continued with the vieil ton until the end of the lute’s popularity. Rimple therefore focuses entirely on Italian repertoire, tracing music written for this tuning from 1507 to 1718.

All of the most popular Italian genres find a home on this recording: a few early intabulations of works by Ockeghem (Ma boucherit) and Josquin (Fortuna d’un gran tempo); a number of instrumental dances; virtuosic, free-form ricercares, fantasias, toccatas, and preludes; and later multi-movement sonatas (by Michelangnolo Galilei and Giovanni Zamboni Romano). As the album progresses, the works grow more fully textured, deeper, and more resonant with every new instrument, until the bass notes of the concluding Ceccona positively glow. Despite the changing tastes in genre and instrumentation over the centuries depicted here, Rimple points out that the vieil ton and the twinned proclivities toward detailed ornamentation and graceful melody remained a constant presence in the Italian lute repertoire. And so they are on this album; despite the vast difference in time period between the first Recercare by Francesco Spinacino (c.1507) to the aforementioned Ceccona by Romano, dating from the early 18th century, the works clearly share in a common Italian tradition that fuses the 26 works on the album together.

Mark Rimple

The works also clearly share Rimple’s extraordinarily sensitive playing. His careful attention to each work’s design allows for a rhetorical pause or delay here, a burst of energy there, a lovingly turned ornament elsewhere. In a manner of speaking, he makes these pieces transparent; one can easily hear the main melodic thrust of each selection despite the complexity of the diminutions or variations layered upon it. These pieces breathe.

Listen, for example, to the short but gorgeous Tastar de’ corde by Joan Ambrosio Dalza (fl. 1508), with its alternations between strummed and broken chords, its cadential pauses, its gorgeous shift to a delicately soft dynamic. Or, perhaps, to Francesco Canova da Milano’s Fantasy No. 33, with its slow layering of quick runs, building from low to high, sustaining the long melodic line. But it would be possible to wax poetic about each selection, in some fashion. It is a well designed and beautifully executed album that showcases the longevity and ingenuity of lute composition in early modern Italy, and a marvelous modern approach to its performance.

Karen Cook specializes in the music, theory, and notation of the late medieval and early Renaissance periods. She is assistant professor of music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

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CD REVIEW: Dark Works of Dowland

Les voix humaines: Margaret Little, Mélisande Corriveau, Felix Deak, and Susie Napper.


Lachrimæ: John Dowland
Nigel North, lute, and Les Voix humaines
ATMA Classique ACD2 2761

By Karen Cook

John Dowland (d. 1626) is surely the most well known English composer of lute music. Most of his works for both solo lute and lute song are based on the typical dance forms of his day, especially pavans and galliards. While he composed more than 30 galliards, his most popular work was the pavan he called Lachrimae, famous for its initial descending motif that so often represents grief or sadness. He subsequently turned the pavan into the equally popular lute song “Flow my tears.”

Both the original pavan and the song were published by the turn of the 17th century, but in 1604, Dowland published a new collection of consort music under the title Lachrimae or Seaven Teares. This print contained 21 new pieces: a large group of pavans, galliards, and almands for five voices and seven new variations on his Lachrimae pavan, each with a subtitle in which Dowland described the type of tear implied in the piece—old, old renewed, sighing, sad, forced, those of a lover, and true. This idea of cycling through a set of variations on a single dance type was distinctly new, and in doing so Dowland could explore a range of emotions. Quite possibly they linked with the then-fashionable concept of melancholy, which was not just sadness but also grief, need, illness, existential crisis, unrequited love, even genius or passion.

Dowland himself characterized the Lachrimae collection as both “grave” and “light.” On this recording, though, it seems that the needle points much more often to the grave end of the spectrum. The liner notes couch melancholy in its later, Romantic sense of the suffering artist moving the audience to tears, and it seems that that definition comes through in the ensemble’s playing. More’s the pity, too, since many of the selections, while sensitively played, feel unnecessarily heavy and dark. Of the 17 pieces here, three are lute solos, while one is a duet between lute and bass viol; these are, to me, among the more successful works on the recording, because the sparser textures highlight the obvious musicality of the performers without also overwhelming the listener in angst. Interestingly enough, of these numbers, two are the original Lachrimae pavan and galliard for solo lute; yet, rather than being placed at the beginning of the album and thus grounding the rest of the Lachrimae variations, they are placed almost at the end of the recording.

Nigel North

While they are performed beautifully by lutenist Nigel North, I wonder that their impact doesn’t get lost a bit at that point in the album. The Canadian ensemble Les Voix humaines plays the rest of the pieces and shines in the various dances. The consort exhibits a lovely sense of rise and fall in pieces like Mr George Whitehead his Almand, and the opening verse and refrain of Captain Digorie Piper His Galliard, performed just by the lute and treble viol, is really quite a joy. Some of the various Lachrimae settings, though, feel a bit too urgent or weighty, and I find myself missing a touch of Dowland’s wry humor. That said, the ensemble has crafted an album that is a pleasure to hear. It would make a fine addition to anyone’s Lachrimae collection.

Karen Cook specializes in the music, theory, and notation of the late medieval and early Renaissance periods. She is assistant professor of music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

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First Friday Concert: Ronn McFarlane, Lutenist

“Some of the most ravishing lute playing to be heard anywhere.” – The Washington Times

St. David’s is pleased to present world-renowned lutenist Ronn McFarlane at the March First Friday concert. A Grammy-nominated composer and performer, Ronn has released over three dozen recordings and performed across the globe, helping to establish the lute and its repertoire as a living, breathing, and musically exciting force.

You can hear Ronn’s first-rate artistry at St. David’s on March 2 at 7:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public; a suggested donation of $15 ($10 students/retirees) benefits the musicians and the music series.

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2017 Summer Workshop Scholarship Reflection: Joseph Harris

Joe Harris TBSI TheorboSummer Workshop Scholarship Reflection
Lute and Theorbo player, Joseph Harris
Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute 2017

I did not know what to expect when I boarded the plane in my hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and headed to Toronto Canada to attend Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute (TBSI).  Although I had attended the Lute Society Festival in 2016, which generally focused on the lute family of instruments, I had a feeling that this would be a much different experience because at TSBI the lutes were in a minority compared to the number of singers, wind, keyboard, and string players attending.

Frankly, TBSI blew my mind.  I have never had an opportunity to hear baroque music played on period instruments at such extraordinarily high levels compared to what I experienced in Toronto.  The Tafelmusik Ensemble gave several concerts which were totally amazing.  The participants, who came from almost all parts of the globe, were outstanding musicians as well.  In addition, the logistics and organization of the institute were executed very well by a team of dedicated personnel handling all the functions necessary to coordinate such a large-scale event.  Indeed, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be in another situation where there are 16 harpsichords in one building!

Reading Continuo on St. John's PassionAt TBSI, the schedule of lectures and classes were very intense, with something important happening nearly every hour of each work day.  I attended lectures covering historical performance practice, tuning and temperament, baroque acting techniques (which is totally relevant to musicians), continuo accompaniment on recitatives, ground bass improvisation, continuo on the lute and theorbo, music research methods and much more.  The schedule was packed full of valuable classes to attend, and evening performances to enjoy.

The ensemble playing was one of the best parts of my experience for those two weeks.  TBSI has multiple ensembles which range in size from solo song accompaniment on the lute, to the grand finale concert which is comprised of every participant at TBSI.  I played the music of Telemann, Johann Christoph Bach, Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, Purcell, Rameau and much more.  In addition, we read through the entire JS. Bach St. John’s Passion, which was awe inspiring. In each of our ensembles we were assigned a faculty coach who guided us in our interpretation which was very helpful. I learned so much not only from the coaches, but also my fellow participants, as well who were all amazing and brought much to the table.

The highlight of the two-week experience for me personally was being able to study with the Tafelmusik lutenist and theorbist, Lucas Harris.  I learned so much from him in the daily masterclasses both on the baroque lute and the theorbo.  Continuo on the theorbo is a challenge, and Lucas worked with the class to guide us in the complicated decisions we must make in order to be an effective continuo accompanists. There was a lot of information to digest in only two weeks, but Lucas presented the concepts in an easy-to-understand way which I found to be very effective. Studying with one of the most experienced continuo players active today was exceedingly helpful to me, and I am a much better theorbo player today because of it. In addition, I received helpful coaching with my solo German baroque lute repertoire in private lessons which was fantastic.

Continuo section rehearsalOverall, attending TBSI was life changing for me.  My experience at TBSI gave me insight as to just how totally fun ensemble playing can be when you are working with musicians who share your passion and love for the music. I came away from the institute feeling inspired and encouraged to move forward with my efforts to continue my education and training in early music. I am humbly grateful to Early Music America for generously awarding me the Summer Workshop Scholarship, which in part made my trip to TSBI possible. I had an unforgettable time, and I can totally recommend that any musicians wanting valuable training, inspiration, and an overall fun experience, to give the Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute your consideration.

Joseph Harris is a baroque lute specialist currently studying at Oklahoma City University under lutenist and professor Kyle Patterson. Joseph’s primary area of study is 18th century German solo and chamber music written for the 11 and 13 course baroque lutes. Joseph also plays continuo on theorbo and regularly appears as an accompanist in university recitals and performances. In 2016, Joseph was awarded the Lute Society of America Student Scholarship to attend the Cleveland summer Lute Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the Early Music America Summer Workshop Scholarship to attend the Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Institute, in Toronto, Ontario. Joseph has played in masterclasses given by Hopkinson Smith, Lucas Harris, Robert Barto, Nigel North and Paul O’dette. Joseph is driven by his unrivaled passion for baroque music and especially the music of the 18th century lute.  His long-term vision includes bringing the rare music of the lute to new audiences worldwide and preserving the lute and its’ music for future generations. Joseph plays on 13 course lutes made by Chadwick Neal, of Columbus Ohio, and Travis Carey, of Vancouver, BC, and a 14 course theorbo by Mel Wong of San Francisco, CA.

Joseph is a 2017 EMA Summer Workshop Scholarship recipient. Early Music America offers scholarships annually to students at all levels of experience to support attendance at early music workshops in the United States and Canada. EMA scholarships and grants are funded through membership dues and the support of generous donors.

​Learn more on our Summer Workshop Scholarship page.

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Ayreheart Savors Folk And Art Music

Ayreheart members Brian Kay (vocals and lute), Mattias Rucht (percussion), Will Morris (colascione), and Ronn McFarlane (lute).

Ayreheart members Brian Kay (vocals and komuz), Mattias Rucht (percussion), Willard Morris (colascione), and Ronn McFarlane (lute).

Barley Moon
Sono Luminus DSL-92203

By Karen Cook

CD REVIEW — Ayreheart, the musical offspring of lutenist Ronn McFarlane (Baltimore Consort, etc.), was founded to create a space in which the new and the old could thrive together. Whereas their first CD (“One Morning,” 2009) consisted of music composed by McFarlane, this new release is a potpourri of pieces from folk and art traditions. The album centers on the lute as both an heir to tradition and a living, breathing instrument, and it showcases the playing of McFarlane and group members Brian Kay (on vocals and komuz, a fretless stringed instrument popular in Central Asian, especially Kyrgyz, traditions), Willard Morris (on colascione, a relative of the bass lute), and Mattias Rucht (percussion).

Ayreheart Cover 400“Barley Moon” explores the similarities between folk traditions, including those of the last several decades, and the art and popular musical traditions of early Britain. This is by no means a new idea; as they themselves point out, many involved in the British folk-rock movement of the 1960s were also performers of early music. The origins of the folk and art music on this album are entwined to the point where the ensemble questions the necessity of such an artificial division.

Six of the recording’s fourteen selections were composed by John Dowland and one by William Byrd; the rest are anonymous, ranging from medieval carols (“Lully Lulle”) and Child Ballads (“Henry Martyn”) to undatable folk songs (“Ddoi di Dai”). Arrangements of instrumental dances, such as Dowland’s “My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe,” are interspersed among vocal pieces (“Come Again, Fortune My Foe”). And yet, Kay’s compelling, approachable delivery here is no different than his treatment of such folk songs as “John Barleycorn,” perhaps best known from the rock group Traffic, and “Nottamun Town,” covered by Bob Dylan. In fact, Kay’s rendition of Dowland’s “Come Again” is one of the most conversational recordings in recent memory, his voice catching ever so slightly in cognizance of the narrator’s lovelorn pining and pausing with an almost audible wink before the word “delay.”

However the listener might choose to categorize Ayreheart’s approach, the recording is persuasive. Their performance is at turns intimate, inviting, playful, wistful, melancholy, even menacing. For those familiar with Renaissance lute songs and dances, the lower ranges of the colascione, the unabashed use of the full dynamic range of the instruments, and the support of Rucht’s array of percussion timbres in the new arrangements are enticingly welcome. For those more knowledgeable of “world,” traditional, or rock-oriented music, the feisty, syncopated “Nottamun Town” or Kay’s yearning rendition of “In A Garden Green” would not seem out of place alongside the numerous folk-rock movement of artists listed in the liner notes.

Extra kudos for the superb mixing and inclusion of a Blu-ray audio disc. The recording is a well-executed and thought-provoking addition for fans of early, traditional, and folk music, and just about everything in between.

Karen Cook specializes in the music, theory, and notation of the late medieval and early Renaissance periods. She is assistant professor of music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.



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