Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bruno Helstroffer - Calling The Muse

Rating: 5/5


I love this disc. I really didn’t know whether I would, because mixtures of ancient and contemporary music often don’t work for me and the description and notes are rather pretentious, but the recording itself turns out to be fabulous.

Bruno Helstroffer is a very fine theorbo player. I love the sound of the theorbo, and he brings its wonderful resonances out beautifully. There is virtuosity in abundance here, but also a deep sense of the music, so he knows exactly when to cut loose and when to show restraint, and he understands the importance of “the space between the notes,” to which his background in playing blues and rock guitar must contribute considerably.

The music itself is excellent. Composers like Piccinini and Kapsberger are well known to lutenists and theorbo players and these pieces show why their reputations survive so well. Helstroffer’s own works are also excellent; I love his slightly wacky reworking of the minuet from Bach’s First Cello Suite (“Tea With Bach”), for example, and other originals show a wonderful blend of the early Baroque with often improvisatory-sounding styles which reminded me of guitarists like John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Michel Chapman and others. To cap it all, the disc concludes with the extraordinary and wonderful Vos Luths in which the instrument sounds almost like a sitar (and is probably the only recorded example of bottleneck slide on the theorbo).

I found Calling The Muse disc a delight from start to finish (with the sole exception of Dans la Chambre de mon Théorbe, a poem read in rather over-emphatic French above a Kapsberger piece). It’s enjoyable, interesting music, beautifully played and superbly recorded. Very warmly recommended.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Gombert - A la Incoronation - Odhecaton etc

Rating: 2/5

Spoiled by poor sound

I’m afraid I found this disc a disappointment. The works here are very good, with mass movements by Gombert and works by Josquin, Pipelare and others, and the singing is very decent - as far as I can tell. The problem lies in the recording, which is distant, over-resonant and very indistinct, so that what comes over is a generally amiable sound but little sense of the wonderful music here.

It’s a shame because I’m a great admirer of Gombert’s music, but this isn’t a very good recording of it and I can’t really recommend it.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Juvenis & Brumel - Il Codici di Staffarda - Daltrocanto

Rating: 5/5

A vey fine recording

I like this disc very much. I tried it because of Brumel’s mass, but it is the setting of the Requiem by Engarandus Juvenis which is the real star of the programme.

I had never heard of Juvenis, and I am slightly relieved to discover that he is largely unknown elsewhere, too. The Staffarda Codex is the only source of his work and I am very glad that Daltrocanto have taken the trouble to seek out his Requiem and record it. Sung with countertenors in the top line, it has a fine, grave resonance and it is a lovely work of genuine beauty and solemnity which captured me from the start.

Brumel’s mass A l’ombre d’ung buissonet is a much less substantial work. I love his Missa Et ecce terrae motus but have never really enjoyed much of Brumel’s other work and this doesn’t do a lot to change that. This time sopranos take the top lines which adds to a slightly insubstantial feel and for me the mass doesn’t add up to a lot.

Daltrocanto’s performance is excellent, with impeccable tuning and balance, a lovely sense of line and a beautiful, warm overall sound. It’s very nicely recorded, too, and in spite of my slight reservations about the Brumel mass, this disc is well worth it for the Juvenis Requiem alone. I can recommend it very warmly.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Ronn McFarlane - The Celtic Lute

Rating: 3/5

A little disappointing

I expected to like this far more than I actually did. I’m very keen on both the lute and on Celtic folk music, but although this disc is OK, it doesn’t do all that much for me. I find it hard to put my finger on the problem, but I think it’s a combination of what seem to me to be slightly pedestrian arrangements and a style of playing which doesn’t quite bring this wonderful music to life. I’m afraid I’m not musician enough to be more precise than that, but I do know that compared, say, to the two wonderful Celtic Viol discs by Jordi Savall and Andrew Lawrence-King this sounds rather ordinary.

I’m sorry to be critical of a good idea. This may just be a personal response so do try a few samples for yourself, but for me The Celtic Lute was a bit of a disappointment.