Most of Josquin’s music was written for voices, but long after his death in 1521 it went on being published and presumably played in instrumental arrangements, particularly for lute. What purpose did these serve? Were they like the vocal scores on which music lovers three centuries later picked out the novel harmonies of Wagner’s Tristan and tried to imagine (or recapture) the effect of an opera-house performance? Or was it that lute virtuosi were so in awe of Josquin's legendary reputation that they chose to use his music as a secure scaffolding for their own display?
This disc raises the questions, but to my mind doesn’t answer them. The trouble is that the accepted method of intabulation seems to have been to transcribe Josquin’s notes literally and then to embellish them with a jungle growth of passagework. Not only does this tend to obscure the originals' melodic lines; it also clogs their forward movement.
A quick comparative survey showed that the timings of most of these performances, loving and careful as they are, were about two-thirds as long again as such vocal recordings as I had to hand--in other words the pieces are take nearly twice as slow as singers would perform them.
This is partly a matter of deliberate choice, I think: Jacob Heringman favours a rather improvisatory way with rhythmic detail, which gives an overall impression not so much of a performance of the music as of a meditation on it. But I shouldn’t generalize. Some of the sixteenth-century arrangers--notably the Hungarian Bakfark and the Italian Alberto da Ripa--elaborate discreetly; others don't. Lutenists will be fascinated by such subtleties and inspired to make their own discoveries. Josquin scholars will be spurred to debate as to just how, much these arrangements can teach us about the composer's intentions.
The average listener, however, will be well advised not to try listening to the disc straight through and above all not to start with its first item, an anonymous German arrangement of the great motet Praeter rerum seriem which I’m afraid I found stupefyingly boring.
International Record Review, July 2000