Jacob Heringman Explores Lute
By Steve Holtje
CDNOW Senior Editor, Classical
Josquin des Prez: Sixteenth Century Lute Settings
(Discipline Global Mobile)
Black Cow: Lute Music by Valentin Bakfark and Matthäus Waissel
The casual observer, noting that these two releases are on a label usually devoted to rock music, might be inclined to dismiss them. However, lutenist Jacob Heringman --U.S.-born, but long based in England, with that country's much livelier early music scene -- has certainly paid his dues and accumulated impressive credits as both soloist and accompanist. The taint of "crossover" is entirely absent from the music he plays on these discs.
The newer of the two, Josquin des Prez: Sixteenth Century Lute Settings, contains intabulations (transcriptions for lute or vihuela of vocal works) of both secular and sacred Josquin pieces by Valentin Bakfark, Francesco Spinacino, Vincenzo Capirola, Hans Gerle, Hans Newsidler, Alberto da Ripa, Miguel de Fuenllana, Luys de Narváez, Alonso Mudarra, and Simon Gintzler, along with an anonymous South German intabulation of Praeter rerum seriem and Virtus sancti Spiritus. Josquin (circa 1450-1521), the most famous composer of his generation, was revered for both his masses and his songs. In those days long before recorded music, arrangements such as the ones heard here were an integral way to spread the music beyond its original contexts, just as in later centuries pianists such as Liszt played medleys from popular operas and jazzmen revamped Broadway hits.
The intabulations chosen by Heringman are often amazingly intricate, especially when the sources are movements from sacred works, whether motets or masses, with up to six intertwined voices. Between the multi-layered melodies and the florid ornamentation, these are some real finger-twisters, but Heringman plays with amazingly clean articulation and delicacy, avoiding sounding effortful.
One of the intabulations on Josquin des Prez: Sixteenth Century Lute Settings is by Valentin Bakfark (circa 1526/30-1576), a Hungarian lutenist who became a famous virtuoso at the Polish royal court. Heringman's first disc for DGM consists largely of Bakfark's music (including another Josquin intabulations), with Polish dances by Matthäus Waissel (circa 1535/40-1602) mixed in for contrast. Actually, in sheer numbers, there are more Waissel pieces (12) than works by Bakfark (nine), but Waissel's charming dances are short and relatively simple, while the Bakfark intabulations (also of pieces by Thomas Crecquillion, Jacques Arcadelt, Clemens non Papa, and the Polish song, which gives the album its title) and one original Fantasia have considerably more musical substance and are much more challenging technically.
Both of these discs focus on relatively under-explored repertoire and are welcome additions to the early music discography. The refined mood and quiet elegance of these pieces will not reach out and grab listeners immediately, but one certainly need not be a devotee of early music to appreciate their tunefulness and subtlety, and the expressive timbre of the lute is most pleasing.