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Michael Tillman - A Renaissance

Luis MILAN ( after 1560) Pavana 1; Pavana 2; Pavana 3; Anonymous Saltarello; Se Io Me Accorgo Ben Miu d’un Altro Amante; Go From My Window; John DOWLAND (1563 – 1626) Fancy; Mrs. Winter’s Jump; Guillaume MORLAYE (b. 1510) Galliard; John DOWLAND Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard; Pietro Paulo BORRONO (c. 1495 – c. 1563) Fantasia; Alonso de MUDARRA (1510 – 1580) Fantasia en manera de Roncalli; Francis CUTTING (fl. 1571 – 1596) (arr) Almaine; Luys NARVAEZ (fl. 1526 – 1549) Mille Regretz, Cancion del Emperador; Luis MILAN Pavana 4; Pavana 5; Pavana 6; John DOWLAND Fantasia; Anonymous Dove son Quei Fieri Occhi?; John DOWLAND Frog Galliard; The Right Honorable Earl of Essex, His Galliard; Luys NARVAEZ Guardame las Vacas; John DOWLAND The Shoemaker’s Wife; Hans NEUSIDLER (1508 – 1563) Dance of the Washerwomen; Francesco Canova da MILANO (1497 – 1543) Ricercare #7; John JOHNSON (fl. 1579 – 1594) Hit and Take it; Francis CUTTING Greensleeves; Luis MILAN Fantasia #9 (all the items adapted for the guitar by Michael Tillman)
Michael Tillman (guitar)
Recorded at New Roads Records, Addison, Texas, January – June 2005
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Michael Tillman is a young Texan, who is self taught as a guitarist, having learnt to transcribe pieces to tablature from recordings by Segovia, Yepes and Julian Bream. He studied architecture for three years but having given this up after three years devoted himself to the guitar full-time. This is his debut CD and is to be followed by a Christmas album and a disc with French and Spanish music. His musical tastes are catholic, covering all periods and styles, even flamenco and jazz.

The present disc contains 16th century compositions, originally written for lute or vihuela, which was a forerunner to the present-day guitar. Mr Tillman has himself transcribed the pieces here (thirty in all) to suit the six-stringed guitar. There are primarily three common types represented, which Dr. James Wintle points out in his informative liner notes: virtuoso pieces, dance music and transcriptions of songs. Mixing these three types intelligently produces a well-balanced and varied programme, which makes the disc attractive to listen to, also in larger doses, even though, generally speaking, discs of this kind are even better appreciated a few pieces at a time. Beginning and ending the recital with possibly the greatest vihuela-composer of the late renaissance, Luis Milan, and also placing three of his pavanas in the middle of the recital. There is then a sprinkling of pieces by the most important lutenist of the period, John Dowland to give the programme back-bone. To modern ears, spoilt by listening to music with wider dynamics and advanced harmonic language, most music before c. 1600 can seem small-scale and even impersonal. Pricking up the ears and listening closely, preferably with headphones, which I regularly do, the supposedly small-scale landscape can turn out to be filled with attractions. The technical demands – if that implies a certain number of notes to be played per minute – are fairly modest but music making rarely has anything to do with who plays fastest or shouts loudest. What we can admire and enjoy is the fine detail, the nuances, the affection and the consistency of both the compositions and the physical music-making. It is all very stylish and warmly inviting – a well-needed counterpoint to the terror, the catastrophes and the turmoil in the world around us. And there are several individual pieces that make us sit up and say: "Ah! That’s interesting!" Let me pick a few things that I jotted down on my note-pad:

After the first three Milan pieces, which felt a bit anonymous, the Saltarello (track 4) by an anonymous composer, felt very personal. Dance music it certainly is and with its drone and relentless forward drive, I felt this could very well have been performed on a bag-pipe. Morlaye’s Galliard (track 9) is delicately syncopated and Mudarra spices his Fantasia (track 12) with some dissonances, which a present-day listener probably reacts more to than his contemporaries did. Several of the song transcriptions with their suggestive titles make the listener create mental pictures and imagine characters and actions.

Just one nagging point: Why do so many designers persist in having liner notes and other important information in white on black? Everybody should know by now that this considerably diminishes the readability – and notes are intended for reading, aren’t they?

Apart from that this is a fine disc and a worthy debut for Michael Tillman. I shall be very interested to hear him in some other repertoire, which also might be of more general interest. Renaissance music is still very much a specialists’ field, but anyone interested in good guitar playing will derive a lot of pleasure from the present disc and possibly find a new niche in music history to delve into. And there are riches!

Göran Forsling



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