Il Divino: The Lute Music of Francesco da Milano – Paul O’Dette, lute – Harmonia mundi HMU 907557, 77:06 ****:
Those who know the lute these days know with certainty the name of Paul O’Dette. His musical activities are not restricted to solo recitals of that instrument though it remains his primary concern—he also conducts Baroque operas and orchestral programs as well as maintaining a career as a continuo player, as well as being the artistic director of the Boston Early Music Festival, and has served as director of the Early Music Program at the Eastman School of Music since 1976. His awards are numerous and he continues to be active as a researcher. Need I mention he has recorded over 120 albums also, many nominated for Grammy awards?
So it comes as a little surprise that this is his first foray into the music of famous lutenist Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543), who worked at the Papal court nearly his entire career, and was famous throughout Europe. Compared to other lute players of the era, we have more of his music preserved than anyone else. We don’t know how, where, or why he died, but his demise was recorded by a friend.
There are more than a hundred ricercars and fantasias (identical forms often used), about 30 intabulations (an arrangement of a vocal or ensemble piece for keyboard, lute, or other plucked string instrument, written in tablature, meaning a chart indicating fingering instead of pitch) and some other known works. Milano, known as Il Divino among his contemporaries, was a median figure that helped musicians move away from an improvisational style to a more polyphonic method that would become common in later lute music. Because there is no existing written dance music (which would have often been improvised by Milano and used as part of organized “suites”), O’Dette has decided to group the various works with some French chansons in their place, and the scheme works very well. The ability of the composer to combine his own improvisatory flair with the variety of traditional forms from the secular and sacred music of the age is one of the things that so attracts O’Dette to this music, and he presents it with a lot of spirit and panache. HM’s recording lives up to the instrument, and we have yet another O’Dette winner.