Jacob Heringman’s lute recital (as he states it) is not only the first devoted entirely to Josquin, but the first to concentrate on intabulations to the exclusion of other forms. As with Musica Antiqua of London’s disc, but more so, the emphasis is on the later repertory, but sacred this time. It is, of course, true that the emphasis of lute intabulators seems to have been on Josquin’s final masterpieces, and Heringman’s selection, whittling down hundreds of settings, is a carefully judged balance of the classically smooth and the eccentric, of the straight and the heavily glossed. The great six-voice motets are there: Preter rerum seriem (in an anonymous mid-century German intabulation, Benedicta es (Alberto da Ripa) and Pater noster/Ave Maria (Simon Gintzler); of the songs we have Faulte d’argent (Bakfark), Comment peut avoir joye (Spinacino), Scaramella (Hans Gerle and Hans Neusidler), En l’ombre d’un buysonnet (Gerle again), Mille regretz (Narvaez) and Adieu mes amours (Neusidler); and of Mass movements there are the entire Kyrie of La sol fa re mi (Fuenllana), the Gloria of Pange lingua (Capirola) and Alonso Mudarra’s wonderful glosa on the Kyrie II of the same Mass. This last is the piece that takes the most liberties with the original (as its designation implies), and for that reason it is one of the disc’s most fascinating tracks. As to eccentricity, the very first flourish (a semitonal ornamentation of the opening pitch of Preter rerum) may disconcert not a few listeners. (The question of ornamentation and the light it throws on performance practice (most obviously issues of ficta) has been explored at some length by Robert Toft, and the topic would certainly bear continued investigation.)

Heringman plays calmly and collectedly throughout, the recorded sound perfectly capturing the distillation of contemplation that the genre invites. At first the miking may appear too close, the clicks and changes of position very audible; but this was more evident when listening on headphones than on a sound-system, and pretty quickly I got used to it. This sense of involvement makes for ideal late-night listening.

Contemplation, yes; but surely concentration, formidable concentration also. The music’s pulse is so drawn out under the pull of diminutions and broken chords that one’s sense of the original polyphony will necessarily shift in and out of focus. The experience is fascinating in itself, but methodologically it raises all sorts of questions about how we hear, listen – and play. The recognition of the original is a crucial one to anyone who knows it; it helps ‘join up the dots’ of a discourse that is often spread very thin. (This, by the way, is not intended as criticism, merely a possible explanation why such a disc of intabulations has never been attempted before.) But how will an unfamiliar listener cope without this context? Is the sound of the lute sufficient to sustain attention except in the most passive sense? How does one recognize the different melodic lines' And what of Josquin’s ostinatos, made all the more insistent for being slowed down? (Listen to the antiphonal passage near the end of the Ave Maria – one instance among many – whose repetitions the intabulator goes out of his way to emphasize.) Equally interestingly, these hermeneutic problems would have posed themselves in a nearly identical manner, I suspect, to a 16th-century listener. But for the lutenist of that time, if not necessarily his audience, we may presuppose a certain familiarity with the models. In that sense, we might think of intabulations as quintessential lute music about lute music, composed by lutenists for lutenists.

Whether other readers (and listeners) will sympathize with such musings I am unsure; but Heringman’s programme gives rise to them, and on that account as much as for the quality of his playing I have come to value the disc increasingly each time I have put it on.

The presentation, simple and elegant, gives an idea of Heringman’s attachment to the project. Fallows’s notes are a model of scholarship with a light touch. (His opening gambit, referring to the ever-decreasing circles of the Josquin canon, is worth quoting: ‘Sometimes it feels as though Josquin will disappear in a whiff of smoke.’) There are Heringman’s own evocative photographs of his lute, and I cannot resist concluding with the tail-end of his acknowledgements, to his wife ‘for generous acceptance of my mistress, the lute’. Delightful.

Fabrice Fitch, Early Music, November 2000