Okay, I'm going to violate one of my basic rules and, at the risk of offending the excellent lutenist Jacob Heringman and diminishing the substantive value of his performances, call this a great dinner, background, conversational-ambience disc. But don't worry, it also will give serious lute-music scholars and those who just love the sound of this gentle, seductive instrument much to analyze and enjoy. The music is from Josquin's vocal music repertoire, from masses (Missa pange lingua; Missa la sol fa re mi) to songs (Mille regretz; Adieu mes amours). But instead of it being sung, Heringman introduces us to various lute arrangements (or intabulations) of these pieces that were made by some of the leading lutenists of 16th-century Spain, Germany, Italy, and France. Except for Narváez (whose intabulation of Mille regretz is one of the more well-known Josquin settings) and perhaps Mudarra, the names will not be familiar to most listeners. But the music--among the great masterpieces of all time--proves surprisingly adaptable to the lute's character and holds up well to the unique sonic dimensions--especially the quick decay time--of plucked strings.
Of course, this is a whole other world from the sustained vocal lines, overlapping harmonic effects, and specific timbre that only voices can produce, and so with these intabulations we effectively experience completely new pieces that sonically and stylistically stand far apart from the originals. This is not a bad thing; rather, hearing Josquin's lines and harmonies in this kind of cleanly detached way only renews our appreciation for the structural integrity of these works and for their refinement, material economy, and deeply affective impact. Heringman--a lutenist of vast experience and high technical accomplishment--has been studying Josquin's music for years and his caring, heartfelt playing really speaks, as if somehow there were voices singing through his fingers. Yes, it's a good background or meditation disc, but it also fills a long-ignored hole in the catalog. And that's certainly not a bad thing, either.
David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com