CD Review by Brian Robins

THE SIENA LUTE BOOK • Jacob Heringman (lt) • AVIE AV0036 (72:06)


The so-called Siena Lute Book is one of the major 16th-century sources of lute works. Compiled in Siena around 1590, and today housed in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, it includes over 150 works by acknowledged masters such as Francesco da Milano, and Perino Fiorentino, in addition to music by lesser known figures and the ubiquitous Anon. Examples of all the forms employed by lutenists during the 16th century are included in the book, which was carefully organized according to genre. Thus, following a group of freely composed fantasias, contrapuntal ricercars, and intabulations of popular chansons comes a further group of fantasias, toccatas, dances (which call for a seven rather than six-course instrument), and four single-line divisions on the popular ground “La spagna,” intended for two or more lutes.

Jacob Heringman’s selection of 21 of the pieces from the Siena manuscript incorporates a representative selection of these various forms, including two of the “La spagna” pieces, where he is joined by Linda Sayce in versions in which Heringman has placed the ground at the bottom of the texture in the lower part for the second lute. In addition, Heringman also gives us three pieces from a much smaller contemporary collection, possibly the lute book of a member of the Medici family, dating from much the same period, and of complementary interest insofar as most of it is in the same hand as that of the compiler of Siena .

It is a measure of the high quality of the music in Siena that the pieces by its most renowned composer, Francesco da Milano, by no means overshadow the other works. Particularly outstanding to my mind are three fantasias by the little-known Neapolitan Fabrizio Dentice (?1539–1581), two of them unusually serious, with No. .23 (in the modern facsimile edition of Siena ) being especially notable for its expansive outlines, and bold harmonic progressions. Then there is the Fantasia (No. 42) of Giulio Severino ( fl late-16th century), a work of harmonic richness and deeply expressive qualities, and the finely constructed and varied Fantasia by Francesco da Parigi ( fl early to mid 16th century?) with which Heringman opens his recital.

Heringman plays all this music with his customary technical skill, bringing out contrapuntal lines with clean, incisive finger work. Occasionally I thought some of his playing, particularly in the fantasias, a shade too deliberate, even prosaic, but in general this a fine, well-engineered recital of rewarding repertoire. An unusual feature of the disc is that purchasers are given the option of downloading three extra bonus tracks. Perhaps the shape of things to come?

Brian Robins

This article originally appeared in Issue 28:3 (Jan/Feb 2005) of Fanfare Magazine.