A first reaction on seeing the programme of Rosemary Hodgson’s
recital disc was to think how very miscellaneous it was - mixing
English and Italian music, having no very apparent chronological,
geographical or other kind of unity. Reading the lutenist’s
own booklet notes one realises that she is well aware of this
miscellaneous quality and that it is, indeed, intrinsic to the
Hodgson uses an analogy with the surviving manuscript lute books
of the period - personal collections in which amateurs (in every
sense) of the lute would copy out pieces which held a special
value for them, perhaps pieces that had particular associations
or related to their own travels and studies, or perhaps, quite
simply, pieces they thought were of especial beauty. Some such
lute books might include music by the compiler’s friends
and associates, or by the compiler himself; but they might just
as readily include compositions whose sources lay some distance
away in time and place. Like the contemporary miscellanies of
verse, such manuscript collections are not only of great value
as a source for later students and performers; they can also,
at their best, be resonant (if implicit) statements about the
sensibility of the person who assembled them - often over a period
of years - an insight into the particular tastes of an individual
some centuries ago.
Rosemary Hodgson says of this programme that it “is an
aural equivalent of a renaissance lute book” and tells
us that she has chosen pieces which “have a particular
resonance “ for her as a musician - and therefore as a
human being, one might add. “I adore all of them; they
are like a collection of jewels that I have carried with me and
shared with audiences”.
As “compiler” as well as performer, we are certainly
given an insight into Rosemary Hodgson’s sensibility when
we listen to this thoroughly enjoyable CD. It is a sensibility
which responds with particular potency to the ‘private’ and
delicate dimensions of the lute and its repertoire, which is
especially responsive to the subtle poetry of the repertoire.
It is, conversely, a musical sensibility less perfectly attuned
to the more robust, more ‘popular’, dimension of
the Renaissance canon of lute music.
As such, Hodgson’s playing is at its most utterly convincing
- and its loveliest - in pieces such as Johnson’s Passamezzo
, with its elegiac descending runs and its counterbalancing
hints of renewal in its ascending phrases. Here Hodgson finds
and articulates emotional and musical patterns with an exquisite
clarity. Her performance of Byrd’s arrangement of Will
Ye Walk the Woods So Wild?
is taken more slowly than usual
and brings out a gentle melancholy that is often missed. In Dowland’s Forlorn
- which gives her collection its title - Hodgson
handles the complex counterpoint with unfussy assurance and,
characteristically, her playing evokes to something like perfection
the oxymoronic qualities of the piece’s title ‘forlorn
hope’, exuding a real sense of, on the one hand, human
grief and the sense of hopelessness and, on the other, the resilient
clinging on to the possibility of restoration and rebirth. It
is a very characteristic Elizabethan nexus of feeling and attitude,
captured to perfection by Dowland in this piece and very perceptively
performed by an obviously accomplished lutenist.
Perhaps, to offer some slight reservations, Rosemary Hodgson
is a little less convincing when it comes to pieces such as Johnson’s Carman’s
- attributed here to father John rather than son
Robert - where her playing is so refined that the theme’s
origins in the streets and the stables is more or les forgotten
- a little more vulgarity wouldn’t have gone amiss here!
On the whole, however, this is playing of real subtlety and of
real sensitivity; Hodgson eschews the merely showy and her virtues
grow on one increasingly with repeated listenings.