Thursday 25 November 2021

In the Garden of Polyphony: Israel Golani performs French Renaissance music for lute and guitar on Solaire Records

In the Garden of Polyphony: French Renaissance Music for Lute & Guitar; Israel Golani; Solaire Records

In the Garden of Polyphony
: French Renaissance Music for Lute & Guitar; Israel Golani; Solaire Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A lovely exploration of the 16th-century French penchant for lute music, notably transcriptions of polyphonic vocal music, by turns dazzling and engaging

Some thirty books of lute music and fourteen books of guitar music were published in France during the 16th century, with more published in the Low Countries. On this disc from Solaire Records, In the Garden of Polyphony, Israel Golani explores this repertoire, performing French Renaissance music for lute and guitar. Golani plays 30 works by around a dozen composers, all secular pieces mixing transcriptions of chansons, fantasias and dances.

It might not seem obvious to us now, but performing transcriptions of polyphony on the lute was big business; last year lutenist Jacob Heringman explored the world of lute transcriptions of Marian motets by Josquin [see my review]. The lute was a common and practical instrument, performing such music on it enabled performers and listeners to get closer to the music. These performances usually took place in intimate surroundings, the idea of a public concert was far away.  Sometimes the resulting piece is quite close to the original enabling us to appreciate the original composer's art, but other transcriptions bring in a world of ornamentation and demonstrate the skill of the lutenist performing it.

There is plenty of challenge of course, and in the CD booklet Israel Golani describes coming across Albert de Rippe's lute arrangement of a French chanson for four voices and being mesmerised, but also needing to develop the technical skill to bring out the music in as natural singing manner as possible, rendering the different voices recognisably. The lute of the period had six-strings, whereas the guitar had only four, yet this did not prevent composers from producing some fine music for the instrument, and it is clear from this disc that guitar repertoire far from being the poor relation.

As regards the selection of pieces, Golani looked for pieces with intriguing harmonic progressions, unusual dissonances or other elements that capture the attention. And the disc is made up of the pieces that fascinated him most.

At the centre of the disc are two figures Pierre  Attaingnant (c1494-1552) and Pierre Phalese (c1510-1573). Attaingnant had a music printing monopoly in Paris and his first book of lute music took an innovative approach to the technical challenges of printing the music with moveable type, and his innovations meant that he could produce the product with single impression printing. A new font was developed in the 1550s by Robert Granjon and it is clear that French printing of lute music was a high class affair. Because Attaingnant had a monopoly, a lot of French music was printed in the Low Countries were Pierre Phalese started printing using Attaingnant's technology. These two printers produced music by known lutenist composers, but also extensively printed the work by anonymous lutenists, which certainly should not reduce our pleasure. And, of course, where the composers are known, they are not always on the tips of our tongues nowadays.

Golani plays the music on three instruments, two modern copies of different six-course lutes, one strung some-what differently to facilitate the clarity of the polyphony in some of the pieces, and a modern copy of a four-course Renaissance guitar. The recording captures these three admirably, we are very much in the wood-panelled salon with Golani, close but not too close.

As is ever the case with Solaire, the disc itself is beautifully produced with a 56 page booklet with extensive articles about the music and about Golani's exploration of it, along with some lovely images from an 18th century manuscript, Fleurs, oiseaux et insectes'.

For all Golani's considerable technical skill, what makes the programme work is the way Golani has put together an intriguing selection of works and plays them in a highly involving manner, holding your attention and engaging you interest with the way he sympathetically transfers the polyphony onto lute or guitar.

In the Garden of Polyphony
French Renaissance Music for Lute & Guitar by Albert de Rippe (c1500-1551), Clement Janequin (c1485-1558), Pierre Attaingnant (c1494-1552), Pierre Phalese (c1510-1573), Adrian Le Roy (c1520-1598), Simon Gorlier (fl.1551-1562), Jean-Paul Paladin (fl.1549-1565), Guillaume Morlaye (c1510-c1558), Julien Belin (c1525-after 1584)
Israel Golani (lute/Renaissance guitar)
Recorded 14-17 June 2020, Lutheran Church, Groningen

Available direct from Solaire [as CD or download], or via BandCamp.

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