A rather unappealing cover design verifies the proverb never judge a book (or CD), by its cover! Lutenist Jacob Heringman here presents an engaging compilation of lute music from sixteenth century Italy. These works have been preserved mainly in the eponymous Siena Lute Book, whilst a few tracks come from the less substantial and less meticulously-organised Medici lute book, so-called on account of the Medici insignia on the first page. Despite the fact that the Siena Lute Book has ended up in The Hague and the Medici book in Haslemere (Dolmetsch Library), they both originate from Tuscany and are mostly in the same hand of an anonymous scribe. The disc comprises works by both top musicians of the day, such as Perino Florentino and Francesco da Milano and by anonymous composers, as well as contemporary arrangements of songs. In a number of cases Jacob Heringman has rearranged or reconstructed the works for their present versions.
The playing itself is exemplary, unsurprisingly so given Heringman's expertise in this area. The works are charming and sweet to the ear if possibly a little uninspiring at times. Whilst the theory goes that by ranging from fantasias and arrangements of French songs to madrigals and dances, this CD offers an assortment of lute music giving an idea of the broad spectrum of works current at the time, in practice the sound offers little respite or variation and could possibly, depending on the listener’s devotion towards renaissance lute music, wear a little thin. For the fan, however, this collection offers a good selection of both unknown and better-known works, delightfully and authoritatively performed by one whose passion for this delicate, lilting, elegant and often courtly music clearly shines through.
One rather felt that the presentation and design of this CD does not do its contents, or the high standard of Heringman’s playing, justice. Dismal front cover aside, the sleeve-notes could be more comprehensive, both in terms of clarification (Richard Falkenstein, in the main discussion of the disc, refers to the Medici Lute Book as "Haslemere", whereas elsewhere in the booklet it is consistently called the Medici Lute Book, thereby inviting confusion) and in terms of Heringman's own notes on the tracks, which cover a seemingly randomly selected 14 tracks out of the 26! The sound is excellent. One for lute music devotees, one feels, though, rather than for a wider audience.
Em Marshall