One of the most impressive aspects of European musical life during the Renaissance and Baroque periods was the willingness of ordinary people to make their own copies of the works they admired or wanted to play. Printed music was freely available, but the true soul of practical music-making lay in the sound of thousands of scratching goose quills transcribing the work of this or that composer, in order to enrich a personal collection or share a musical experience with like-minded friends.

Jane Pickeringe, sitting down to begin her anthology of lute music in 1616, seems to have been exceptionally gifted both as a copyist and as a performer. The lute, like the virginals, was a respectable instrument for accomplished young Jacobean ladies, but nothing is known of Jane herself, and though plenty of seventeenth-century poems are addressed to female musicians, none, alas, bears her name. The taste reflected in these pieces is mostly for the Elizabethan lutenists of her parents' generation, such as John Dowland, Philip Rosseter and John Johnson, but she also managed to include little popular ditties and folk tunes, copied onto the foot of various pages below more complex pieces of art music.

Jacob Heringman's new disc emphasizes this range of contrast within the anthology. Stylistic variety and sheer unexpectedness in the juxtaposition of successive numbers form part of the listening pleasure here. Other early-seventeenth-century musicians added items to the Lute Book, and Heringman uses different tunings to enhance our awareness of these different layers of copying. A fascinating sound-world opens up between the swooning French sarabandes, the courtly Pavin by Mr. Johnsonn and the 'Toys' in various moods scattered through the collection. At least one work, My Lord Willoughbies welcom home, is an ambitious adaptation of one of Byrd's keyboard pieces by Francis Cutting. The original composer would surely have been delighted with the experiment.

Jacob Heringman is a shrewd and committed interpreter of this music. I've often been irritated by the tendency of certain lutenists to treat their material too mathematically. As if the tablature were a Venn diagram or a set of log tables, they pound out the rhythms with machine-like exactitude, often at the expense of the music's structural features and melodic shapes. Heringman opts instead for a more relaxed, fluent, personal style, constantly attentive to shifting forms, with the result that each of these pieces, however small, is given a chance to breathe and speak for itself. Such expansiveness is heightened by a good, rich acoustic. Linda Sayce contributes a well-detailed booklet note, but why are no timings included? Otherwise this is a most attractive disc, which writes its own small chapter in the history of musical taste.

Jonathan Keates

© International Record Review 2002
used by permission