Anders Ericson’s excellent liner notes warn that the French
baroque lute tradition may not be as instantly likable as the
snappy, melodic songs of a John Dowland. That’s true, and it’s
also true that these works are never as ‘developed’ or downright
snappy as the composers who came a generation or two later (like
Silvius Weiss). But I really had no trouble genuinely liking
this music, let alone Ericson’s tender, evocative playing.
The French composers of the mid-1600s were most interested in
expanding the range and technical ability of the lute, dabbling
especially in a variety of new tunings. Catchy tunes and lyrical
hooks were not as important to them as creating new textures,
sounds, and techniques. The ultimate product would be a more
closely unified “French school” of lute playing, but the works
here are from the experimental period before that, a period
in which Ericson is apparently a specialist.
The works here are all miniatures (topping out at 4 minutes)
yoked not really into suites but groupings: from Jacques Gallot,
for instance, we get a group of “Pieces in A minor.” Gallot
is joined by François Dufaut, Jean Mercure, and Germain Plinel,
all of whom are unknown to me but all of whom receive engagingly
colorful biographies in Ericson’s liner notes, except Mercure,
about whom little is known except that he worked at the English
court. Dufaut’s pieces exhibit admirable mastery with their
compact forms, while Gallot prefers a slightly greater measure
of freedom, structurally and harmonically. Pinel, who gets the
most time of the four, was lutenist to Louis XIV and indulged
more than the other three in difficult fast passages and structural
quirks - like the way the prelude seems to end hanging in midair.
Ericson suggests that he might have been an influence on Couperin.
Anders Ericson is an interesting figure on his own. This, his
debut lute album, demonstrates technical mastery of the instrument
- though he says, modestly, that the music is not all that hard
once you get past the novel tunings - and a sensitive touch
which belies the claim, repeated but not endorsed in the notes,
that this music is hard to listen to. Those notes are an excellent
guide, too, and a sign of the performer’s scholarship. Which
makes it all the more interesting that Ericson’s “day job” is
as a heavy metal guitarist. He’s recorded three albums with
a progressive metal supergroup called Beyond Twilight. Metal
is not really my thing, but I hope that this side of Ericson’s
career will be as fruitful as that one is. While it may be true
that this music will not grab listeners unacclimated to the
lute as immediately as Dowland or Bach might, for those of us
who enjoy or love the instrument the recital will prove a treasure.
I hope there is more to come.