Relic: Music for the French lute
François DUFAUT (c. 1604-1670)
Six pieces in G minor [12:49]
Jacques GALLOT (c. 1625-1695)
Five pieces in A minor [14:18]
Jean MERCURE (c. 1600-1660)
Five pieces in A minor [9:24]
Germain PINEL (c. 1600-1661)
Eight pieces in D minor [17:03]
Anders Ericson (lute)
rec. 20-23 May 2009, Uppenbarelsekykan, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden
DAPHNE RECORDS 1042 [53:34]
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.
An unusual lute recital makes for a rewarding listen.